Seattle won’t be the only city shopping for a new police chief this year: Bellevue’s city manager announced Thursday that on April 15 Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo will retire, 35 years after she entered public service.
Pillo is ending her 28 years at the Bellevue Police Department with plans to enjoy some sunshine in Palm Springs.
“I’ve been planning this for a while,” Pillo, 58, said Thursday. “I want to retire young enough that I can travel and take some time when I’m not on-call 24/7, which can really weigh on your daily life.”
Her career is full of community-service contributions that include starting the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in Bellevue, helping form the Bellevue Police Foundation and serving on the boards of several local nonprofits including Youth Eastside Services (YES), Youth Link Board and the Bellevue Rotary. She became police chief in 2007.
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But the department has also faced turmoil in the past year. Since fall 2012, Pillo’s had to make widely scrutinized decisions about how to punish two off-duty officers who were acting belligerently toward families and Seattle police at a Seahawks game. One was demoted and the other, Andy Hanke, was suspended for 30 days. Hanke was charged with a DUI last year in a separate incident and decided to resign earlier this month.
Pillo also investigated and demoted two commanders who failed to report an extramarital affair that Pillo said would “impact the department for years to come.”
“People are people and, yeah, we’ve had some incidents when a small fraction of our force made some frankly stupid decisions,” Pillo said. “I feel like I issued fair yet firm discipline.”
Exactly 35 years before the date she plans to retire, Pillo entered public service as a fresh Washington State University graduate at the Mercer Island Police department. She had wanted to be a probation officer because that’s what most women became if they worked in law enforcement at the time. Instead, she dared herself to apply for a “patrolman” job posting.
“I thought, ‘What the heck; I have a criminal-justice degree,’ ” Pillo wrote in an email announcing her retirement to city staff. “I’ll give it a go and get some experience so I can be a probation counselor.”
She ended up sticking with patrol and investigations at that department, where she was the only female “patrolman” when she started. Seven years later, during a time when there were still few women working in police departments nationally, she joined the Bellevue department, which had only a handful of female officers.
“Just like with any career, once you prove you can do the job, you’ve got everyone’s respect,” Pillo said of pushing forward in a mostly male-dominated field.
Throughout her years in Bellevue, Pillo served as a detective, hostage negotiator and cultural-diversity instructor.
She eventually became Bellevue’s first female captain, major, deputy chief and chief.
“She helped blaze the trail for women in the field of law enforcement,” said Bellevue City Manager Brad Miyake in a statement. “Our city is no doubt a better place because of her service and leadership.”
Miyake said he expects the city to choose its next chief later this year but wasn’t more specific than that. He said the city would be taking full advantage of the transition time to immediately start a recruitment process.
Seattle is also searching for a new police chief to fill a spot that has been open since John Diaz announced his retirement in early 2013. Jim Pugel took over as interim chief and was replaced this month by Harry Bailey, who came out of retirement as a Seattle police assistant chief.
Pillo said although she’s sure there will be a national search for the next Bellevue chief, she thinks there are viable candidates for the job within the department. She said she’ll participate in the transition process until her last day.
Until then, she says she’s still boss and is planning on acting like it. There are still three specific things she said she wants to bring before the Bellevue City Council before she retires but would not say what they were yet.
“There’s no lame duck here,” Pillo said. “I’ve always had a strong work ethic and I want to remain a good role model for the rest of my staff.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.