The future of policing in Edmonds: Part 5 — Searching (again) for a new police chief

The national debate over equity, social justice and policing is now an Edmonds debate. My Edmonds News has launched a series of stories to examine what is at stake and how the debate could change the city’s approach to policing, equity and social services.

You can read Part 1 of this series here , Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.

Edmonds has been without a permanent police chief for 18 months, after longtime Chief Al Compaan retired the end of 2019. Finding a new chief has now taken two searches over more than 500 days at a cost of nearly $120,000. How did we get here?

Mayor Mike Nelson

When he launched the new police chief search six months ago, Mayor Mike Nelson emphasized the need to be transparent, both for the search process and the police department.

His purpose in issuing a video message Dec. 14, 2020 outlining next steps for the search, was “for the sake of transparency.” And in a Dec. 15 statement announcing the new search, he stated: “I am committed now, more than ever, to my vision for our police department – a department that is a stronger, more transparent, accountable, and a safer space for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in our community.”

To understand the emphasis on transparency and the scope and process of the new search, it is important understand how the city got to this moment – for the second time. It has been a tumultuous journey.

My Edmonds News investigation continues

With the announcement last December that Nelson had nominated Sauk-Suiattle Tribal Chief Sherman Pruitt as Edmonds new chief, My Edmonds News began to investigate the process and the decisions behind that first search.


See related stories:

Pruitt no longer new police chief; harassment claim, protection order come to light (Dec. 15, 2020)

Mayor’s reason for rescinding offer to Pruitt? He didn’t disclose his application for police job in Lake Stevens 10 years ago (Dec. 16, 2020)

What the City of Edmonds knew before the police chief vote (Jan. 6, 2021)

Mayor promises answers soon on what’s next in police chief process (Jan. 7, 2021)

City learned about Pruitt’s history two weeks before mayor’s nomination (Jan. 15, 2021)

Written feedback reveals what community, law enforcement panelists thought of police chief candidates (Jan. 19, 2021)


Sherman Pruitt

Our investigation found:

  • Past instances of domestic violence in which Pruitt had admitted involvement.
  • That the city knew of those issues and other concerns two weeks before the mayor nominated him.
  • That those instances should have eliminated Pruitt from consideration according to Edmonds Police Department published hiring criteria.
  • That Seattle had fired Pruitt in 2004 as a rookie officer while still in training.
  • That some Edmonds City Councilmembers were assured those issues had been vetted, while other members said they were not told anything about them.

The full council never discussed these issues in public and on Dec. 8 voted 4-3 to confirm Pruitt.

One week after the council confirmation, Mayor Nelson rescinded the job offer to Pruitt. On Dec. 18, 2020 My Edmonds News initiated a public records request for city communications related to the search, and that request was fulfilled on June 4, 2021.

Our investigation continues, but early this year, the mayor and administrators told us they would no longer talk to us about what happened in the past search: “These detailed questions about the past process are no longer germane,” Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty said in a Jan. 15 email to My Edmonds News.

However, what we discovered after that six-month investigation into Edmonds public records raises additional questions — and not just about that first search.

In an email on Dec. 9, just one day after the council approved Pruitt’s nomination, City of Edmonds Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson emailed then-Edmonds Assistant Police Chief Don Anderson:

Email exchange between Jessica Neill Hoyson and Don Anderson about fingerprinting police chief candidate Pruitt.


Hoyson emailed Anderson with the following:

Sent: Wednesday, December 9, 2020 13:19

Subject: Fingerprinting Chief Pruitt


I’m wondering if Skagit can assist with getting Chief Pruitt fingerprinted?

I understand per the WAC  that I need to do the following:

(c) Complete and submit a fingerprint card inventory sheet to the Federal Bureau of

Investigation and Washington state patrol records division for query;

Is that something I can pay Skagit to do and if so, how do I go about doing it?

Thanks so much for your help with this!


Anderson’s reply:

Sent: Wednesday, December 9, 2020 15:18

Subject: RE: Fingerprinting Chief Pruitt


I’m a little confused by this Email as you indicated last night that the background investigation had already been completed?  I’m not quite sure how to answer this for you even though I’m assuming you believed it was a very simple request.  I had assumed that the fingerprint submission had been done well in advance of any conditional offer or medical tests because it’s part of the criminal history record check process in the background.” 

We asked Hoyson to respond, and she replied via email: “As all information provided by Chief Pruitt had been confirmed through other means, the fingerprinting was held off until after the conditional offer of employment and prior to the final offer of employment,” she wrote. She also said Washington law stipulates that fingerprinting only has to be completed prior to the “final hire.” However, we have learned that Edmonds police hiring rules do not agree. They require that all background issues, except certain health exam results, must be completed before any “conditional offer” of employment is made.

Hoyson also told us that although Anderson — who retired from the department in April — may have had concerns and written some down in a narrative he emailed to other Edmonds police commanders, he “never officially provided (it) to anyone in the (city) administration. Therefore, it is difficult to address the unofficial opinions of a former employee that was never officially submitted to anyone at the city.”

But Anderson had officially brought his concerns to the city. As early as Dec. 3, the day Nelson nominated Pruitt, Anderson emailed Hoyson: “The first question I have is if he meets the qualification requirements of the position.” He then offered Hoyson resources to check Pruitt’s qualifications. Hoyson’s reply to Anderson; ” I was aware of these requirements and can confirm that they have been met.”

Two days after the council’s vote to confirm Pruitt, on Dec. 10, Hoyson emailed Anderson, asking if he would meet with her to discuss his questions. Anderson emailed his official reply and copied Mayor Nelson, laying out for both an extensive list of his concerns, item by item and summarizing: “I am saying that there are enough red flags that I am aware of that would, in my experience, result in a command level decision here that there is too much risk involved to hire him (Pruitt).”

In a My Edmonds News one-on-one interview with Publisher Teresa Wippel Jan. 29, Mayor Nelson publicly acknowledged last year’s troubled police chief search:

“Obviously, hindsight is always 20/20. Sure, I wish I could have done things differently,” Nelson said. “I’m not perfect. I make mistakes every day. I should have done a better job articulating the type of chief I was looking for, and that’s something that I did not do. But at the end of the day, I did not hire that candidate (Pruitt) and I’ve learned from it and I’m making sure that this time, we’re doing things differently. This time, I’m articulating this is what I’m looking for and I’m making sure we have a process that is including the community in several different ways.”

What we know about the new police chief search

The 2021 police chief recruiting brochure

Mayor Nelson has told My Edmonds News that the new search has produced five top candidates. Nelson said he expects to announce three finalists within a few weeks. As in the first search, the candidates will participate in several public interview panels before Nelson announces his choice. The nominee goes to the Edmonds City Council, which will confirm or reject that candidate.

When he announced the second search last December, Nelson set out his expectations:

“We will find a police chief who is forward thinking and acting. Because the future of policing in Edmonds should be a reflection of our community – vibrant, safe, compassionate, caring, and welcoming.” (Mayor Nelson, Dec. 15, 2020)

These are the qualities Nelson said he wanted in the new chief:

  • demonstrated leadership in community policing,
  • willingness to ask tough questions about Edmonds Police policies and practices,
  • implement changes based on findings, ensuring they bring positive change to the community,
  • demonstrated leadership in:
    • promoting women, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ officers into command positions,
    • preventing gun violence, preventing domestic violence and violence against women,
    • working with and engaging People of Color to make them feel safe and welcome,
    • protecting pedestrians and enforcing traffic safety laws.

Three key elements are likely to influence how policing in Edmonds will change:

1. Equity and Social Justice Task Force Report

In June 2020, the mayor announced formation of the Equity and Social Justice Task Force. He laid out its purpose: ”to help identify and correct systemic and implicit bias, and barriers to inclusion and equity within city operations.” His hoped-for outcome: policies and procedures for the police department and other city employees to address bias against African American residents, people of color and other minorities. The 11 members submitted their report in January 2021.

Among the findings:

  • police do not have consistent, on-going training to work with communities of color,
  • there is a lack of insight into the perspective of communities of color,
  • there is a lack of community outreach and engagement training,
  • many residents of color do not feel safe in Edmonds

Recommendations include:

  • community engagement training and implicit bias training for officers,
  • integrating social services with police,
  • and using the Task Force to develop a city-wide ‘equity work plan’.

2. The Edmonds Police Department sudit

In announcing the audit Jan. 20, Nelson said it “will enable the person selected as our next chief to fully understand what the department – and more importantly the community – need and desire from police services in Edmonds.”

Edmonds hired the Center for Public Safety Management, a private company with a track record of police audits in several hundred communities in 39 states. The contract was for $66,000. The Public Safety Management team spent three days in Edmonds in late May. The report is expected to be complete within the next several weeks.

The audit is not an equity or social justice review. Rather, it was designed to analyze the nitty gritty of department: how staff is used, to discover what drives workloads, demands on police services and overtime. The audit is examining the department’s organizational structure, command culture and operational readiness, comparing Edmonds with the “best practices” of policing nationwide. The goal is to create a short- and a long-term plan for the city to determine the department’s ability to carry out its mission.

3. Police chief search recruiting

The third element, the critical step, is the police chief recruiting. My Edmonds News has learned that recruiting efforts were already delayed once. And there are more questions about this process.

This search has been led by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP): The contract – $46,800. The association is listed as the world’s largest, most influential police leadership organization.

The online deadline for applications originally was April 28. But, we have learned that the posting was extended three more weeks until May 19. We asked the city and the IACP — why? They have not yet responded.

A source with knowledge of the search tells us that one reason for the delay may have been a low posted salary — the Edmonds salary offer topped out in the “middle” of the actual pay range for a chief. The new posting now lists the top of the scale at $185,000; that’s $25,000 more than the mid-range salary top offered initially.

Police chief recruiting search plan

In January, Nelson — in a Facebook video post — told viewers that “for the sake of transparency, I will now share the steps in this process.” That video was not posted on the official city website and there was no city news release on his speech.

Nelson’s opening Facebook remarks focused on the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Then, he pivoted to compare that to the controversy over the police chief search. The mayor said: “In the name of love of country, love of city, we see how far some will go when they don’t get their way.”

“At the local level,” said Nelson, “we are seeing targeted and coordinated acts of hate and bullying to undermine our democratic principles and our rule of law. A small group of local people is spreading fear and lies trying to tear our city apart.” He did not provide any specifics.

This has been the new police chief search process as Nelson outlined it:

    • A community survey
    • Interviews with stakeholders
    • Focus groups
    • Creation of a community video
    • Production of a recruitment brochure
    • The final phase – detailed applicant screening, leading to the top three candidate

The IACP did not do background checks on candidates for this search. Another independent firm did the background checks.

Mayor Nelson said all that would take five months. It has been five months. We checked on the search progress. It triggered more questions.

  • The community survey was done in March. My Edmonds News has asked several times for the results. We have not received any information from the city or IACP on the results and do not know how many people took part.
  • The focus groups “were done by conducting the community survey. This allowed all members of the community to have the opportunity to voice their interests,” Human Resources Director Neill Hoyson said. Aside from the survey, there were no other focus groups.
  • The stakeholders who were interviewed included:
    Pastor Tim Oleson, Edmonds Lutheran Church
    Pastor Ann Jacob, Edmonds United Methodist Church
    Dr. Victor Vergara, Edmonds School District, Executive Director of Equity & Student Success
    Owen Lee, Edmonds Youth Commission member
    Greg Urban, Edmonds Chamber Commerce President & CEO
    Pam Stuller, Edmonds Downtown Alliance
    Whitney Rivera, Edmonds Municipal Court Judge
    Patrick Doherty, COE Community Services/Economic Development Director
    Mindy Woods, City of Edmonds Human Services Program Manager
    Sekou Kone, City of Edmonds Diversity Commission member
    Donnie Griffin, City of Edmonds Diversity Commission member
    Pat Valle, City of Edmonds Equity and Justice Task Force member
    Dr. Janice Greene, Snohomish County NAACP President
    Vicci Hilty, Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County Executive Director

The city responded that those interviews were used to help create the recruiting brochure, but that “the city does not have what was specifically said in those interviews as that is owned by IACP.”

  • The recruiting brochure, which you can find here. It is not on the City of Edmonds website.
  • The community video. According to Neill Hoyson, “The city has been working on final edits of the community video with the IACP and hope to have that ready for release in the next two weeks.”

We have asked what purpose the video will serve, especially now that the search is almost over. We have not yet received a reply. 

The names of the three finalists may be announced in the next few weeks. Then comes round two of interview panels and the mayor nominates his pick; ultimately, the city council votes (again) for a chief.

By the time Edmonds’ new police chief assumes command, the city’s search effort will have taken almost two years and cost more than $120,000. It has consumed hundreds of hours of investigation; hundreds more hours of private and public debate; tens of thousands of words have been exchanged in frustration and fear; hope and expectation.

When this part of what has been a tortuous journey ends for Edmonds, this city is far from being done with policing, equity, racism and social justice.  This was just the beginning.

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. The first sentance of this article is so far off base. The national debate is not a local debate. Hire the best qualified candidate.

  2. The mayor said his committee is ‘to help identify and correct systemic and implicit bias, and barriers to inclusion and equity within city operations.’ Maybe he can share how on online survey done only in english is correcting systemic barrier to inclusion and equity within city operations. What about nonenglish speakers? What about people who don’t have access to online? What about people who don’t know how to do online surveys? What about people who didn’t know there was even a survey: how were they supposed to find out about it?

  3. Well, for me, that was a great apology by the mayor. I got pulled over once while driving 30mph over. I told cop “I’m not perfect.”

  4. The HR director said that ‘The focus groups “were done by conducting the community survey. This allowed all members of the community to have the opportunity to voice their interests’. This didn’t allow for ALL members of the community to voice their interests. I ask the HR director and the mayor to explain how outreach was done to underrepresented community members and others who didn’t have access to the online survey or even know that it was being done becuase they don’t have online access and didn’t see it posted. Was it done in other languages?
    How is this equitable and allow for EVERYONE to have a voice?

  5. This series is excellent, thank you MEN staff! I strongly recommend people also read the 2-part interview with Sherman Pruitt from the Beacon (sorry for pushing the competition, but it is a very relevant exclusive.) In particular, part 2 where Pruitt says he requested records from Lake Stevens that show they have no record he ever applied for a job there.

    1. Brian, I think Pruitt was done wrong by this process. I hope he sues Edmonds. That would be equitable.

  6. I do not want a Police Chief that would Condon actions such as footing knee on a neck of individual, pulling cars off to these of the road based solely on the color of their skin…….period.

    Nancy Tays

  7. Predictably absent from the interviewed “stakeholders” are any persons with police experience and training. There are many retired police officials living
    In Edmonds from many different agencies. Also absent, anyone with prosecutorial experience. No private business owners on panel. Most, if not all on the panel, advocate for the Mayor’s Seattle centric visions of “social justice”. A mayor should hear from all interested people interested in the selection of our new Police Chief. He chose a choir of “stakeholders” who he knew would sing his song. True diversity means hearing all voices, not just those who will agree with you.

  8. The information we have to date, shows a deceitful and power driven local government intent on applying the propaganda of the day to the tune of discrimination against all citizens of the City. This Mayor and 4 Council member who vote whatever the Mayor wants will be the downfall of our small town. From the Police Chief issue to Housing Commission proposals to forever change our town, this group cannot be trusted. They make it extremely difficult for the public to be a part of the solutions, while all the while waving the flag of Equity and Social Justice.

    Keep this up and Edmonds will not be able to keep qualified and dedicated Police Officers. Drive the wedge of CRT training and you will further divide all people.

    Thank you MEN for excellent reporting. Keep up the good work as we rely on your paper to provide information that is concealed by government here in Edmonds.

    1. That’s right. The kings and queens of smoke and mirrors. I am sick of the looks, the huffy, the distraction of one trying to block her face constantly, rustling papers, clearly annoyed she even has to be there. It’s very distracting and very rude. Childish…so embarrassing for all of Edmonds. We, from what I’ve been told by Bellevue residents, are becoming a laughing stock over there.
      Stop btw comparing us to Shoreline, Bothell, kirkland…they are a mess from what I hear. Let’s get real here people.

  9. Cant believe how many questions asked have not been responded to. Doesnt give you much faith in the mayors & H R directors open government
    The mayors video he did not share with the public is disgusting. When is the administration going to be truthful with the citizens. Thanks ME N for keeping us informed.

    1. So true, I signed up yesterday for Benefactor. I would love to see everone show MEN and Teresa how much they are appreciated and needed. They do need help…they have been doing much. So, everone be grateful, and join me. They make it very easy to subscribe. A check sent. Or online an easy site and I used my Nordstrom card haha. So…I loved not having so much hassle. Teresa try to make everything fair and better. Thanks My Edmonds News. Deb.

  10. So, who assumes that there aren’t qualified and experienced candidates of all stripes. Seems to me that is the mayor and his council buddies. Why is that? Shouldn’t that be what the recruitment process is all about? Given how they handled ( mishandled) the process, any potential candidate now knows that they will be used by the mayor and his council buddies for purposes that have nothing to do with that candidates hard work and pride in their accomplishments. Look at what they put Mr. Pruitt through. None of that should have happened ever. Mr Pruitt’s details should never have played out in public. That is one of the reasons for executive sessions. When one was ask for it was voted down.
    There are doubtless great candidates out there. All backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations. But will any of them actually want to work here in Edmonds? In the Mayor’s quest to get his optics, he and his council buddies have severely limited the pool of applicants. I would not want the job given all of that, would you? ~

    1. It is a problem. He may need to be recalled. Inslee got a hot seat….its not a stretch to see Mayors and council members recalled. Think Sawant..Think Durkin…she’s getting out of Dodge on her own though. That 400 million will tide her over after she helped destroy one of the prettiest cities in the country. Want that….because that is what you are going to get.

  11. Thank you Bob Throndsen for your excellent reporting in this MEN series. As a sitting Edmonds City Council Member most of your reporting was news to me.

    The City Council has not been informed about this “Open and Transparent Process”. We have not received updates or reports about the new recruiting efforts from the Mayor or HR Manager. It is not unacceptable to me and reflects a total disregard for the City Council.

    I guess that they are only concerned about the four votes that always support the Mayor. It will be up to the voters in the next election if this is acceptable to them.

    1. The way the mayor treats some members of the council and doesn’t allow them to question directors shame on him

    2. Thank you very much for your insight Kristiana. This is pretty critical information that should not be hidden from anyone.

      Another reason why we cannot afford to lose such a critical resource of transparency and thoughtfulness from you on the council.

      The Mayor has made quite a few assumptions in this process, and a number of them have turned out to be wrong. We all make mistakes and that is fine, but instead of coming together and openly and honestly talking through the problems to find a solution, there has been a lot of petty stubbornness, avoidance, and sometimes outright lies.

      If we don’t have people that are actively advocating for openness, honesty, and substantive qualifications in this police chief search, than we will all lose out.

      Thank you Kristiana Johnson for being one of the essential voices of reason in these trying times.

    3. It’s all of you. And you should have known. Don’t you read your own paper like we do. Everyday half of it is about the city council or mayor or city planners and what they want to do.
      No offense but if they won’t tell you…read the paper, that’s what we have to do.
      I will say Thankyou for admitting the council has been neglect.
      The vote…a no brainer…but much much more to investigate around here….now that the heads are coming out of the sand…

  12. Looks like the Mayor is trying to hire the new Police Chief before the election, which probably guarantees that at least 4 Council Members will support his nomination.

  13. Outstanding journalism! Bob Throndsen’s best work in an already distinguished career. Promoters of any form of censorship would do well to study this series. Poor journalism only thrives in a vacuum.

  14. The management, response, and the amount of monies spent on this hiring process would likely have resulted in termination of Nelson and the four who rushed the vote, were it to have occurred in the private sector.

    I hope lessons were learned – and we can get back to “best fit, best qualified.”

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