The city of Olympia’s “preferred candidate” to be its next police chief dropped out of the running Thursday, dealing another blow to its two-plus year search for a permanent chief.
The move came the day before Kenton Buckner resigned as chief of the Syracuse, N.Y., Police Department, where he had served for just over three years. Buckner’s resignation was not mentioned in a late-morning news release from the city on Friday announcing it was again pausing its police chief search.
The release contained this statement from Buckner:
“Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the search for a Chief of Police in the city of Olympia. For personal reasons, I am withdrawing as a candidate for the position.
“I make this decision with appreciation for the experience of getting to know the people of the Olympia Police Department and the community. It has been a privilege. I also have great gratitude for the professional and respectful way in which I have been treated by the City administration throughout every stage of the process.”
According to Syracuse.com, Buckner was in Olympia this week and missed a news conference at which Syracuse officials discussed an encounter between officers in his department and an 8-year-old who allegedly stole a $3 bag of Doritos from a neighborhood store. Their interaction, which included an officer placing the sobbing boy in a police car, was captured on video and has since gone viral.
When The Tribune asked the city for information on who Buckner met with and whether it asked him to withdraw due to concerns over the Dorito incident, city spokeswoman Kellie Purce Braseth did not address the specifics of the questions Friday afternoon. She said this: “As noted in our release, Chief Buckner decided to withdraw his candidacy.” She did not say who he met with in Olympia and stated she did not know about the viral video.
City Manager Jay Burney had defended the selection of Buckner as one of three finalists for the job, despite knowing Buckner was sued last year by a Syracuse police officer for racism and discrimination. Buckner has denied the allegations. Before that, when he was on the Little Rock police force, he was among several individuals sued over officers’ claims of a hostile work environment and discrimination. The city of Syracuse settled the lawsuit out of court.
The city of Olympia announced its Police Chief finalists in early March. When The Tribune recently asked about progress in the search, Braseth said that additional, deeper background checks were in progress, in addition to ones that Burney had done himself before selecting the finalists.
The city has been without a permanent police chief since December of 2019. To date, it has spent $59,000 on the search: $45,000 for the most recent one and $14,000 for an earlier failed attempt to find a new chief.
Burney was in charge of both searches. The earlier search ended last year when The Olympia Tribune reported that one of the four finalists had been reprimanded in 2017 by the Kalamazoo Michigan Police Department, where he then was a sergeant, for violating that city’s use of force policy.
In the Friday release from the city, Burney said: “Our search for a new police chief has been long and challenging, and I am disappointed that, despite a strong recruiting process with good community input, we cannot announce a new chief. Olympia is not alone in these challenges. Municipalities all over the country are struggling to find the right candidates for these important positions. While today’s development will temporarily delay a final decision, we are fortunate that our police department is in solid hands with strong interim leadership.”
The department has operated with two interim chiefs, Aaron Jelcick, who retired last fall after two years on the job, and the current interim chief Rich Allen.
Under the city’s council-manager form of government, the city manager hires the police chief, rather than the city council.
The City will pause to take time to reevaluate its candidate pool for the position and will share more about next steps in the coming weeks, the release said.