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Vancouver's new police chief works to boost diversity, community engagement

Chief Jeff Mori wants to increase diversity among staff to better reflect Vancouver's population and boost community engagement to improve police relations.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Vancouver's new police chief is about three weeks into the job and knows he has a complex mission ahead.

"I feel very humbled and blessed I was selected," Chief Jeff Mori said.

Mori was assistant chief at the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) for about three years. He served the Washington County Sheriff's Office before that for nearly three decades and was undersheriff for several years.

Mori was selected in a highly competitive process and was thankful his existing knowledge of VPD gave him an edge. He hopes to evolve the department's culture toward constant improvement.

"[To] never believe we're the best or the greatest at what we do," Mori said. "We chase it, we relentlessly pursue it. We want to be the very best versions of ourselves that we can be."

Sworn in June 30, Mori noted several main goals ahead. In the short term, that includes hiring for nearly 30 VPD positions.

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"It is very difficult to attract people into this vocation," Mori explained. "If you're willing to lead with compassion and empathy as the first arrow in your quiver, I have a job for you here."

VPD is offering $10,000 hiring bonuses to police recruits without experience and $25,000 to experienced law enforcement professionals who choose to join.

Another of Mori's goals is to diversity VPD's staff.

Women, for example, make up less than 20% of the force.

"That's unfortunate because more than half our population in Vancouver is female," Mori said. "We need our organization to not only be reflective of our community, but I would ask that our police department is reflective of the greater metropolitan cities of the United States."

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Mori is also leaning into his years of developing connections with local community organizations.

"One of the first organizations I joined in 2019 when I came to Vancouver was the Vancouver chapter of the NAACP," Mori said.

He is also connected with LULAC and leaders of the Sikh religion.

"We have hired our first Sikh officer," Mori said.

The goal is not simply to recruit and diversify. 

Mori acknowledged many marginalized communities, often disproportionately impacted by crime, have felt negative impacts from policing as well. He hopes building positive relationships across all communities in Vancouver can help when it matters most.

"When [police] show up at a scene with a gun and a badge, the inherent power differential that takes place is so prevalent," Mori said. "All the crimes that are happening right now, somebody knows who did them. We just need to develop that trust now to let people know that they can come forward to us and they'll trust us to do the right thing, be equitable and compassionate and make our community safer."

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Police transparency is part of that plan. Mori said the department is currently testing body cameras in the field. Most VPD officers will likely be wearing cameras by the end of the year.

Mori is taking over VPD during a tumultuous year for the department.

In January, VPD lost Officer Donald Sahota, who was accidentally shot and killed by a Clark County deputy who thought he was stopping a dangerous suspect. It was VPD's first officer lost in the line of duty.

"To lose an officer like that, it changes you, it changes the organization," Mori said. "And even talking about it now I feel pretty emotional about it ... Makes us all realize we're human beings as well, and we're not these monolithic, unemotional people."

Ultimately, through the challenges and changes, Mori hopes to foster a culture of accountability, community and growth to his department.

"I want the best people from anywhere in the United States to come work for the Vancouver Police Department," Mori said. 

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