Redmond Police Chief Kristi Wilson has been a police officer for 30 years, and she’s spent 24 of those years in Redmond. Now, in her first year as chief, Wilson talked about the changing face of Redmond, the relationship between the community and law enforcement, and what she loves about her job.
How did you get into police work?
Honestly, no great story (laughs). I used to play competitive softball, and one of my teammate’s dads happened to be a police officer. We were at a tournament one time and just happened to be chatting, and I thought, “That seems to be an intriguing job.” So, I went to college and got my bachelor’s degree at Central, got out and thought, “Let’s give this a whirl.” Been here ever since.
What’s kept you in Redmond for so long?
I just love the area. I’m from Seattle, born and raised in Burien. I love the area. I think this is a really great organization as a city and the police department. I think we have a lot of opportunity here, and it’s a very progressive, innovative police department. I think it’s just the way we do business. We’re very active in the community. We are really always willing to try out something new. An example: We started a pilot project last year with human services. So we embedded a social worker between human services and the police department to deal with our homeless population, and outreach, so we can get people into services and not clog up the criminal justice system. (We) get people to places they need to be and identify (their needs) quicker.
The relationship between police and community can sometimes be strained and sometimes be rewarding. What does it look like to work with the community in your job?
I think it’s a lot of engagement. I think part of it is you have to demystify and de-stereotype particular communities and also law enforcement. And I think the only way you do that is by building personal connections with individuals and groups so that they can compare what they’ve heard with what they see. For me, I just find it’s more important that if I’m out talking with somebody that they can put a name and a face to something, and I think it helps (for them) to walk away and go, “Hmm, you know, I’ve heard X, but now that I know officer so-and-so, I need to think about that a little bit more, and maybe that’s not a true story because I know somebody now.’ I think a lot of times this stereotype happens because we don’t have those personal connections where you can actually put a face to somebody.
Do you collaborate a lot with other Eastside cities?
Absolutely. Pretty much everything we do involves multiple police departments. That’s on a policy level, an engagement level, and even a lot of our work groups because criminals don’t understand borders; they kind of float across really the whole county. I think for us, our regional partnerships are incredibly important.
Redmond has changed a lot since you started working here. What’s that been like to see the evolution of the city?
I think it’s fantastic, personally. We’ve kind of moved from a bedroom community to a suburban city, and we are really on the cusp of being a very urban community. I think you’re seeing the growth of Redmond, the diversity of Redmond. Really, the opportunity of Redmond is fantastic. There’s really a good vibe about the community.
Are there growing pains with that?
I think it’s important for us to make sure we are ahead of the curve. So my job is not only to plan for today, but three or five years down the road. The shifts that we make today are for us being five years down the road. Knowing the development that’s going on downtown … we’re shifting some of how we do business. Part of that will be a full-time bike unit that we’re going to deploy downtown for ease of getting around but also a much higher visibility for community engagement.
What do you love about your job?
Every day is different; every day you have a tremendous opportunity to have a positive impact in your community — and everybody has that ability. People don’t call 911 to tell us what a great day they’re having; we’re there for people in states of crisis. It is that individual who comes back a month later, or honestly five years later, and remembers you and says, “That incident changed my life, and I’m here today because of something you did.” You can’t get anything better than that.
What would you say to someone who is considering getting into police work?
I wouldn’t be swayed by what’s publicized about law enforcement. This truly is a noble profession that requires dedicated community-involved individuals who have compassion who want to make a difference. If that’s who you are, then this is a great profession. I think this really is a calling for people.