Bremerton’s interim police chief finds new role ‘exhilarating’

Not one to sit in the office, Burchett makes a point to be among the people he’s leading

BREMERTON — When Steven Strachan stepped out of the role of Bremerton police chief at the end of 2017, it was up to Capt. Jim Burchett to fill his shoes.

Burchett, now the interim chief of the Bremerton Police Department, has been with the department since the start of his civilian law enforcement career. After retiring from the Navy, he, on a whim, answered the department’s newspaper ad seeking reserve officers.

“I thought, I’m going to give this a try,” Burchett said. “I went to the reserve academy, I started riding with the police officers. It was a world I never even imagined.”

In 1993, after a year-and-a-half of reserve duty, Burchett applied for a job with the department.

“And the rest is history,” he said.

Burchett started in patrol, then went to special operations, then to K-9. When his canine partner retired, he became a patrol sergeant, then detective sergeant in general investigations. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2003, then to captain in 2006. Since then, he’s been in charge of the support services division, which “is everything not patrol,” including detectives, special operations, narcotics, records, evidence, and internal affairs.

“I was very comfortable in my spot,” Burchett said. After Strachan’s departure was announced, “Initially, I wondered, is this something I want to do? As the process went on I thought, I really want to serve these people as chief. I put in for it, and the mayor offered me the interim position.”

Burchett has applied for the permanent position, which is a decision Mayor Greg Wheeler will make. In an earlier interview with Kitsap News Group, Wheeler said he would decide whether he would conduct an interview process and interview up to four candidates, appoint from within, or conduct a wider candidate search. A decision was not publicized by press time Jan. 17.

For the time being, Burchett is learning the ins and outs of his new job.

“I sat right next to the chief for the last 12 years,” he said. “[Being chief] is completely different. After 12 years of doing the same job, you get pretty good at it and you have a strong comfort level, and there’s really nothing you haven’t seen before. This is a whole new job. Instead of being in charge of half a department, I’m in charge of a whole department.”

He said he doesn’t want to be a chief who sits in the office, so he makes a point to be among the people he’s leading.

Whether or not he remains chief of police, Burchett has long- and short-term goals he’s looking forward to.

“2018 is an accreditation year,” he said. “Only 20 percent of law enforcement agencies in the state are accredited, and we’re one of them. It’s important to maintain that.” A lieutenant will retire in June, and that position will need to be filled. Burchett is also tasked with maintaining the communication program that Strachan developed.

“My first two weeks on this job has been pushing out emails, Friday updates, keeping everybody in the loop on what we’re doing,” he said. “My goal is to maintain the level of pace of Chief Strachan, which was higher than anything we had in the past. I need to develop some more outreach with some other community groups.”

In addition, Burchett said the department will need to develop a new four-year strategic plan, and needs to “get on some hiring.”

“My goal is to make sure our police force more reflects the makeup of our community,” he said, “so that’s going to drive some of our hiring decisions down the road.”

Burchett is focusing on becoming the best chief he can be for Bremerton. “I’m sure at some point this will stabilize,” he said, “but it’s like drinking from the fire hose. It’s pretty exhilarating, to be honest with you.”

— Michelle Beahm is online editor for Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at mbeahm@soundpublishing.com.

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