New chief will be in place in March

Lt. Jason Cooper, who is the acting chief for the Ontario Police Department, provides a brief update on a purge for the evidence room to the Ontario City Council during its meeting on Nov. 23. Cooper will be relieved of his interim leadership duties on Tuesday or Wednesday, when interim chief Steve Bartol is expected to arrive. Bartol will be in place until March, when Michael Iwai, of Salem, will take over as chief for the department.

ONTARIO — Ontario will be getting a new police chief in 2022, according to Ontario City Manager Adam Brown. Michail Iwai, of Salem, who has been a lieutenant with Oregon State Police since 1997, accepted the position on Nov. 22 and is slated to start in March.

Brown said that Lt. Jason Cooper, who is currently the acting chief for Ontario Police Department, will be relieved of that position sometime next week. Former Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero’s final day was Oct. 29; he moved from southern California to take the position in June of 2019.

Interim Chief Steve Bartol is expected to arrive in Ontario by Tuesday or Wednesday to fill in the gap until Iwai starts.

According to Iwai’s application packet, he has served as a public servant or soldier for nearly 30 years and has extensive experience as a public safety/law enforcement operations and program manager. As such, he has handled areas such as police administration, operations, investigations and overall emergency management.

While working with OSP, Iwai racked up about 14 years of staff supervision, including area commander in which he had oversight of 33 people; and patrol division program manager, in which he worked closely with the division director.

In addition to extensive law enforcement training in a multitude of areas, Iwai also has extensive knowledge of labor and management relations and has experience in collective bargaining and other related police union processes.

Iwai’s resume states that he has served on myriad workgroups, including committees, such as governor’s advisory, MADD National Law Enforcement and assorted traffic-safety groups. He also volunteers weekly for Mothers Against Drunk Driving since July of 2018 and International Association of Chiefs of Police since January of 2013.

He received numerous local, state and national awards during his time with OSP.

Prior to working for OSP, Iwai served in the United States Army from January of 1992 to January of 1997, when he was honorably discharged. He was stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington. He achieved the rank of sergeant (E5), and worked in law enforcement services for the military. During that time, his application states that he received confidential Secret Security clearance and supervised and lead military police. It also states he served as the Sniper Team Leader, developing training exercises to enhance security for sniper deployments.

Iwai earned his Master’s Degree in Business Administration in 2018 from Northwest Christian University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Management and Organizational leadership from George Fox University in 2016.

When describing on his application why he would like to work for Ontario, Iwai stated “the smaller community, four seasons and higher elevations are attractive quality of life considerations.”

He also stated that he was approved to transfer to Ontario in 2008; however, he pulled that for family considerations, as his father had passed away.

Additionally, Iwai stated that based on his research, Ontario’s five-year strategic plan is “something I want to both engage and promote. There is opportunity to rally the police department around community priorities that illustrate ‘community’ policing.

Iwai further stated that the diverse community will be a place “where my family can connect, serve and thrive.

Evidence room update

It’s unclear if Iwai will be seeing a company conducting a purge of the evidence room when he arrives. Currently, the police department is faced with needing to do that, a result of an audit which revealed there may be more missing than the $900 in cash that initially triggered the audit.

A criminal investigation by Oregon State Police, which has been ongoing since August, is on pause until Ontario can get the audit done. As OSP is conducting the audit, it cannot do the purge.

Purging the evidence room is said to be a monumental task, as there are 20,000 items and counting, some of which are decades old.

During an update to the Ontario City Council at it’s Nov. 23 meeting, Brown stated that he is hoping to have a proposal together soon on the cost of getting the purge done, adding that Cooper and Bartol are working on getting information to a company to try to get that proposal done.

“It’s an active process,” Brown said.

Mayor Riley Hill asked for clarity about whether the new chief would take on the purge or if the interim could do the purge.

Brown stated that after several conversations with them, the primary focus of the interim chief will be to give Cooper the ability to provide “extra hands on deck.”

“Right now we’re having trouble just keeping up with the intake of new evidence and we are running out of space for that, but the main goal is to find an entity to come take care of asap.”

Hill asked about whether a such a big build-up of old items could be avoided in the future, and how long the city has to keep items after a trial is over.

Brown said part of that needs to be built into standard operating procedures, the intake and regular purging of items, with each having its own retention requirements.

Cooper expanded on this, stating that each piece of evidence has to receive a disposition from the district attorney.

“They are the authorizing agent that allows us to release it back to the owner to destroy and get rid of that evidence,” he said. “That’s a process.”

Cooper further explained that the severity or type of crime also played a role in determining how long the department has to retain evidence.

“There are certain cases which have timelines where they are appealed, and we have to maintain that evidence until time passes,” he said.

Hill further asked whether the DA had to be prompted to submit the needed paperwork, or if there was some kind of automatic notification in place.

Cooper said it’s a combination thereof, but added that he didn’t have a definitive answer.

“Sometimes we get dispositions, sometimes that office is busy. There may be a disposition that exists, but they just didn’t get it to us. They may have it on record and did not provide it to us. We may have to ask, like sometimes if a property owner wants [an item] down the road, it might prompt a discussion between the DA and us.

Hill also asked how long the purge could take and how much it might cost.

“I can’t provide that,” Cooper stated. “We have to research a lot of factors that tie in.”

This would include the size of the team, he said, adding that more people would drive up the cost, but could be necessary in order to get the purge done faster.

“Our goal is to get something done as soon as possible,” Brown added.

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