In his first year on the job, Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett has reorganized the department into geographic sectors, met individually with all 221 employees and reached out to the city’s growing minority communities.
For two years, cars pulled up to a suspected drug house in Bellevue’s Woodridge neighborhood at all hours. Addicts and runaways regularly crashed there, police say. Car prowls radiated out in a five-block area.
But it wasn’t until new Police Chief Steve Mylett last fall reorganized the department into three geographic sectors, with an experienced captain responsible for each, that city resources were marshaled, the homeowner arrested and the house sold.
Mylett urged the captains to take on the problems in their sectors and told them they’d be accountable for the results, said Capt. Carl Kleinknecht, who now leads the west sector, which includes downtown and the Woodridge and Enatai neighborhoods.
Kleinknecht said Mylett floated the sector-captain idea right away.
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“He brings the ideas and vision of where we need to be as a department. He challenges us to come up with solutions and then he promotes those solutions. He’s never deviated from that fixed purpose,” Kleinknecht said. “That’s inspiring, for sure.”
A year ago, Mylett, a veteran Texas police officer and administrator, took over a department with a reputation for strong community support, but rocked by officer misconduct and what an independent assessment characterized as a “leadership vacuum.” Chief Linda Pillo retired in April 2014 and a former Bellevue chief, Jim Montgomery, was a respected, but temporary, replacement.
In Mylett’s first year, city leaders and department officials say, the new chief has established an expectation of integrity and service from his staff, reached out to the city’s growing minority communities, restored the popular bike-patrol, and made support of his officers, their training and professional development, a priority.
“He’s been doing a fantastic job,” said City Councilmember Kevin Wallace. The council member said he’s talked with community members and business owners and he couldn’t be more pleased with Mylett’s performance. “He brings great depth of experience; he’s a good communicator.”
Mylett, who earns $170,000 a year, also has been more visible and more engaged with the media than some of his predecessors, following through on a promise to bring more openness and transparency to the department.
In January, he stood before a sports-media scrum and forcefully defended his department’s release of its investigation into a car crash involving Seahawk Derrick Coleman, and its recommendation that charges of vehicular assault and felony hit and run be filed. The King County prosecutor’s office has not announced any decision on charges.
In January, Mylett also stood with King County Sheriff John Urquhart to announce criminal charges in a sex-trafficking ring Bellevue’s vice unit helped infiltrate.
“Management by walking around”
Mylett is also gaining a reputation as acting decisively in instances of alleged misconduct.
This month, he announced that Deputy Chief Jim Jolliffe, a popular, 25-year veteran of the force, would be demoted to captain for undisclosed performance issues. That follows the abrupt retirement in November of another deputy chief, Michael D. Johnson, after he used an unmarked police vehicle’s emergency lights and sirens to maneuver through traffic while off duty.
Mylett said he doesn’t let personal feelings, or an officer’s popularity, affect what he described as a “business decision.” Within his first week on the job, he told the staff he would hold them to the highest standards of integrity and pledged no less from himself and his command staff.
In an interview at his department office in Bellevue City Hall, Mylett said, “Deputy Chief Jolliffe is being treated just like I would treat anyone else except that, in my view, as you travel up the chain of command, you’re held to higher standards.”
The disciplinary actions, and strong message about integrity, have produced what another Bellevue police veteran described as a “course-correction” in department culture.
“Within his first week on the job, Chief Mylett gave us his expectations via email and soon thereafter in person that we would be professional, respectful, serve the citizens and maintain the same high ethical standards whether on-duty or off,” said Lt. Lisa Patricelli, a detective with 26 years in the department.
Mylett also spent his first two months on the job meeting one on one with the entire staff — 180 officers and 41 civilians — to hear their concerns.
One theme that emerged, he said, was a perceived disconnect between command staff and patrol officers. He said he and other department leaders are trying to break down that divide by attending roll call, going for ride-alongs, showing up at crime scenes and generally making themselves more visible, what Mylett called “management by walking around.”
Union officials say Mylett’s years of experience — 23 in Corpus Christi, where he rose from cadet to deputy chief, and three years as chief in Southlake, an upscale Dallas suburb — is reflected in his appreciation of the challenges his officers face every day.
“He recognizes that the job of a police officer comes with a great deal of scrutiny. He also recognizes that we’re human and may make mistakes. He’s said that mistakes will be taken in context, and if an officer can come back from a mistake, he’s going to have the chief’s support,” said Detective Barak Carter, president of the Bellevue Police Officer’s Guild.
Attention to diversity
Standing in his office at a whiteboard, Mylett draws a traditional organizational chart as a pyramid with the chief and command staff at the top. Then he draws an inverted pyramid, with the broad band of patrol officers on top and the chief at the pointy bottom. It’s the second, he said, that reflects his leadership and management philosophy.
“I need to be working harder than anyone else in this organization to support the people that are on the line,” Mylett said. “ … That they have the support to make their decisions. That I am holding them accountable, but also picking them up and getting them back in the game. That’s so very important.”
Mylett said the sector-captain reorganization is just one of many changes he’s planning. He wants to eliminate one of the two deputy- chief positions, to make the department less top-heavy.
He is instituting a data collection and analysis system to identify crime trends and target resources to them. Yes, he says, there is crime in Bellevue, two homicides last year and almost 4,500 property crimes, the latter up about 25 percent since 2011.
He’s also addressing the lack of diversity on the police force. While Bellevue’s population is now about 40 percent minority, its ranks were more than 80 percent white when he arrived. Of nine new hires in 2016, Mylett said, five have been female or from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.
In March, Mylett attended a meeting of about 200 members of the city’s Muslim community and told them he wanted them to be safe, to be part of the community and that he wanted to build a police force that better reflected their growing presence in the city.
Bellevue Mayor John Stokes, who accompanied Mylett to the meeting, said the new chief could not have been a better ambassador for Bellevue or its Police Department.
“We hired the right person. He has really made a difference,” Stokes said.