Politics & Government

Fife police chief resigns amid questions of “why?”

Fife Police Chief Brad Blackburn has resigned, effective Wednesday, and while City Hall’s official statement characterized it as a “long-planned departure,” some in the city are questioning whether it was voluntary.

The city announced Blackburn’s resignation in a news release Monday and described it as the end of an era for the Fife Police Department. Blackburn had been with the police force for 26 years, the last eight as chief.

City Manager Dave Zabell said Monday evening that he wouldn’t speculate about Blackburn’s decision to leave, nor would he disclose the terms of a separation agreement, but he said the chief has had “an amazing commitment to the organization.”

Assistant Chief Mark Mears will serve as interim chief.

Ken Luce – who formerly worked as Fife’s prosecutor and judge for a total of 20 years and currently has a private practice in the city – said he suspects there’s more to the story than the city is sharing.

The lifelong Fife resident said the chief’s resignation lacks transparency.

“There’s no stated reason for why they are getting rid of him,” Luce said. “Citizens deserve an explanation about why their chief is being let go.”

The News Tribune couldn’t reach Blackburn for comment Monday night.

In the city’s news release, he said he’ll always be proud of his service to the citizens of Fife.

“Leading the Department as Chief has been challenging, exciting, at times difficult, but never dull,” Blackburn said in the release.

In 2010, he drew media attention for rescuing a 69-year-old woman from a burning house in Tacoma while he was driving home.

Other less-than-dull moments occurred over the last several years, when the police department faced several investigations – some that included Blackburn – that led to the resignations of two officers in 2011. One broke the law and another engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate employee.

Blackburn and two members of his command staff faced allegations of inappropriate conduct and discrimination. But an outside investigator determined in 2011 that the conduct either did not happen or could not be proven.

Despite the period of instability, Blackburn is regarded for leaving the department in “solid financial and organizational shape,” according to the city’s release.

Blackburn, 53, started his law enforcement career in 1988 as a Fife police officer. He worked his way through the ranks until he was made chief in 2006.

“The Chief has been engaged in the community, and region, in ways that have made a profoundly positive difference for our residents and businesses," Fife Mayor Tim Curtis said in the city’s release. “I’d like to thank him for his tireless service to the community and wish him luck in his future endeavors.”

Luce said Blackburn is well liked by residents and local business owners.

Mike Seeger is one of those businessmen. The “flower-shop guy,” as he calls himself, has closely monitored Fife politics, and said something must have spurred what he believes is a forced resignation.

“Blackburn would never resign from this job,” Seeger said.

Zabell denied the claims of forced resignation and stressed that Blackburn is excited to “seek out new challenges” — the same wording attributed to Blackburn in the city’s news release.

“Brad is obviously going to leave a void,” Zabell said Monday.