Interim Police Chief Randy Kaut, a 33-year veteran of the Chehalis Police Department, was named Monday as the new chief of the department.
Having served the last 14 years as deputy police chief, Kaut stepped into the interim leadership role earlier this year after former Chief Glenn Schaffer left the department to take a job leading the city’s human resources department.
In a Monday email to city staff and the elected city council, City Manager Jill Anderson said Kaut, 56, has a proven track record of being a “logical, fair and a reasonable leader of the highest integrity,” and that those qualities merit placing him in charge of the department.
“In his role as interim police chief, Deputy Chief Kaut continued to earn my trust and respect as he led the department through the COVID-19 pandemic and a year of increasing scrutiny of law enforcement, as well as the ongoing staffing shortages due to the difficulty of finding qualified police officer candidates,” Anderson wrote.
“He will be able to lead the department into the future while maintaining stability in this time of unprecedented change in the laws that govern how and when law enforcement officers can do their jobs,” she continued.
He will make around $120,600 in annual salary, Anderson said. A final offer is still being negotiated.
City leadership had been looking to have a permanent police chief in the role by the end of the summer. Anderson told The Chronicle they were planning on conducting a full recruitment plan this summer, but that changed when Kaut expressed interest in the position following discussions.
“I think his interest in the position grew and my interest in having him in the position grew in the last six months,” Anderson said.
Pressure has also been escalating on the short-staffed city recently, she said, referring to the heightened public scrutiny against police and state legislation that recently went into effect that impacts how officers interact with the public and respond to calls. That in turn has affected the number of officers in the labor force.
At the end of the day, Anderson said, it made sense for the city to go with Kaut — a well-known face around the community and a trustworthy officer who knows the ins and outs of the job, and who would be the city’s best bet to bring the department through the rollout of new laws and into the future of policing.
“People know him well, they know his integrity. And his commitment to this community is evident in his desire to step into this very challenging position at this very challenging time. it’s admirable,” Anderson said, noting his clean tenure with the department.
Kaut said he plans to stay with the Chehalis Police Department for at least a few years. Looking into the prospect of retiring in the coming years, he’d always assumed that he would leave the department as a chief deputy and not as its leader.
“Sometimes, things just change a little bit. In this case, that’s what happened,” he said, adding later: “I am very excited. It’s going to be a different world for me.”
Kaut said he didn’t expect he’d pursue this opportunity at all, even though he’d previously served as interim chief prior to Schaffer’s departure in January.
But his perspective changed shortly after taking the position. He said city staff sat him down and asked him if he’d consider the position.
“It was an opportunity to try something different, to expand my horizons. So, here I am,” he said.
Kaut oversees 18 commissioned officers and five support staff. He’ll also lead the department forward as it attempts to interpret the new police accountability laws and get more clarification on how they can interact with the public out in the city.
In some aspects, he said, they’ve already felt the impact of the new laws. The department had a domestic violence call recently where felony charges were merited against a suspect, Kaut said. They were able to take down a description of the suspect and locate someone who looked similar at another location.
When confronted, the suspect started fleeing, Kaut said. His officers were unable to pursue the person because they weren’t fully confident it was the suspect and didn’t witness the alleged suspect, who matched the description, break any laws aside from fleeing.
Under previous Washington state law, officers could detain a suspect on “reasonable suspicion,” which is evidence that gives an officer a reasonable belief of wrongdoing. “Probable cause” is the new, higher standard officers must use.
The city will host a swearing-in ceremony and reception at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24, in the city council chambers for Kaut.