Chief Derek Bowker took head of the Phoenix Police Department Nov. 1. 11/25/08 Denise Baratta

Promotion of top cop is win-win situation

PHOENIX — The city's new head cop came to town about three years ago with plans to revive a defunct K9 division.

When turmoil hit the small department and the likelihood of training a narcotics dog inched further from reality, 40-year-old Derek Bowker stayed on as a patrol officer and eventually became lieutenant, bringing needed consistency to a struggling department.

Named interim chief in February, Bowker became the city's full-time chief Nov. 1.

The Klamath Falls native said his primary focus — though he'd love to see the department's K9 program get up and running again — is to keep day-to-day operations running smoothly and ensure residents receive the high quality of police protection they pay for.

"I'd always planned on, within 10 years, becoming chief," Bowker said this week.

"But I never imagined it would happen in fewer than five years. My plans, initially, were that I was hired to get the K9 program going again, which hasn't exactly worked out yet."

Bowker has provided some needed consistency during issues faced by the city in recent years, said Mayor Carlos DeBritto.

Former Police Chief Bob Kershaw, who hired Bowker, was arrested for evidence tampering in a case involving his son in March 2006, a little more than a year after Bowker was hired.

The city fell under sheriff's-office protection for a time and set out to rebuild the department with help from Oregon law enforcement consultant Rod Brown.

Brown found a range of issues, from financial to training concerns, and helped the city get the small department back on track.

Former Oregon State Police Lt. Kurt Barthel became the city's chief in summer 2006 and spent a year-and-a-half rebuilding the department before resigning in February amidst personnel issues involving former city manager Joe Wrabek.

Bowker said he opted to become the city's new chief to ensure progress made by Barthel was not lost. Bowker said Barthel brought consistency and calmness to the small department.

Promoted to lieutenant last November, Bowker said he returned to school after Barthel's departure, obtaining a bachelor's degree last year and beginning work on his master's degree in September, in hopes of trading his interim status for the permanent role of chief.

For now, he hopes to keep the department in good standing and maintain existing levels of protection. If he could figure out funding, he said he would like to add a narcotics dog to the police force.

"With the financial situation of governments these days, there's no telling how we would do it without grant money," he said.

"But a narcotics dog would be a fantastic asset."

He added, "The main thing I'm trying to do now is continue what Chief Barthel was doing as far as making sure everybody is trained above and beyond the minimum requirements ... I just want to make sure that we give the citizens of Phoenix the best product that we possibly can."

Before coming to Phoenix, Bowker spent 13 years in the Air Force, worked two years as a K9 officer for the Redwood Valley, Calif., police department and several years as a Curry County sheriff's deputy.

A member of the 173rd Fighter Wing Air National Guard, Bowker said he would continue a strong partnership with the nearby city of Talent.

Interim Talent Police Chief Mike Moran said Bowker was an ideal match for the city and had continued an ongoing partnership with Talent.

"When I got here and met Derek, I knew right away that we could count on each other as backup," Moran said.

"I really enjoy working with Derek. He's a very sharp guy who I think will be a really good chief for Phoenix."

DeBritto said Bowker was well-qualified, familiar with the city and enabled the city to avoid an expensive and potentially unpredictable hiring process.

"We'd not advertised for the position because (Bowker) had just gone through an extensive training program that we felt qualified him to be our police chief," DeBritto said.

"Rather than go through the expense of doing a search, we felt we had somebody with us that could do the job and do it well. So far, he's been doing an outstanding job and he's an extremely quick study. I think we're very fortunate in having him."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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