After a six-month search, Issaquah city officials announced Tuesday that Paul Ayers, of Lewiston, Idaho, will step into the role of police...

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After a six-month search, Issaquah city officials announced Tuesday that Paul Ayers, of Lewiston, Idaho, will step into the role of police chief starting July 23.

Ayers, 54, has been with the Lewiston police department for nearly 30 years, serving the last three as chief. He will replace former chief Dave Draveling, who retired in December. Ayers emerged as the front-runner for the job after he and six other candidates submitted to a round of rigorous interviews last month, said Mayor Ava Frisinger.

The seven applicants were narrowed from a field of about 30, most of whom were from the Western U.S. Three community panels and one executive panel questioned them for hours to find the best fit, Frisinger said.

“Of the people we interviewed, the majority could have taken the job,” she said. “But ultimately, he [Ayers] was the strongest person.”

Steve Cozart, interim police chief, also was one of the hopefuls. He will return to his job as deputy chief once Ayers arrives, Frisinger said.

Ayers’ starting salary will be $113,436 — $4,740 less than Draveling’s. His vision for his first days is to “learn and understand the community,” Ayers said Tuesday from his office in Lewiston, a city of about 32,000.

“This is not a police chief’s department. It’s a community’s department,” he said.

Ayers began his career in 1976 with the Moscow, Idaho, police department, before going to Lewiston. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Lewis and Clark State College and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He and his wife, Rose, have a 33-year-old son who is a police officer in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Ayers said the pay boost — about $27,000 more than what he makes in Lewiston — is one of the reasons he decided to change jobs after three decades with the same department.

“I’m at the top of my pay range and eligible for retirement,” Ayers said. “That put me in the position to start looking around. … We don’t come into law enforcement for the money. But this gave me an opportunity to go to a city that has a good reputation and good compensation.”

Under state law, Ayers had to undergo an extensive background check that included polygraphs and a psychological evaluation. He and his wife will arrive in Issaquah next week to look for housing, he said.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com