Joe Huff had wanted to be a Nampa policeman since he was a kid and his dad was a reserve officer. Now, at 43, he is two weeks away from becoming the department’s new chief.
He has spent his entire professional life at the Nampa Police Department in varied roles and says he loved most of his experiences. But just four years ago, he and two other internal affairs officers filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city and the department, fearing for their jobs and alleging retaliation for pointing out waste and misbehavior within the police force.
Huff calls that “a scary time” that he and the department quickly put behind them after the case was settled for $189,000, seven months after it was filed.
Mayor Bob Henry, who picked Huff over two other internal candidates to replace outgoing chief Craig Kingsbury, said that episode illustrates much of what he likes about Huff: standing up for principles and a steadfast commitment to the department.
He had offers; he could have left, but Nampa police is what he wanted to be.
Nampa Mayor Bob Henry on Joe Huff, who has spent his whole career at NPD
It also helps, Henry said, that Huff is not as closely tied to past department administrations as other candidates for the job.
What the mayor wants, he said, is change.
He believes the department in recent years lacked a united mission and direction, and “the charge to Joe is to get everyone on the same page.”
“Joe told me, ‘I want to get that Nampa swagger back,’” Henry said. “I love that.”
A Nampa police lieutenant since 2009, Huff was named interim chief this past Thursday, the day Kingsbury departed to take the top police job in Twin Falls. Huff’s appointment is expected to become official on the first Monday in January.
WHAT CHANGES ARE IN THE OFFING?
“I’ve got a ton that I want to do,” Huff told the Statesman, but “I don’t want to let a whole lot out right now because I haven’t even talked to my command staff.”
He said he plans to work with department leaders to identify needs and look at where resources could be redistributed to meet those needs. The work of change will be done as a team and as a department, he said.
170 employees in the Nampa Police Department; 116 are sworn officers and 5 are new officers not yet sworn
Huff aims to make Nampa policing more proactive, he said, trying to address the behaviors that lead to crime as well as reacting to crime when it happens. Among the areas of focus, he said, will be repeat offenders and gang crime.
One move that has already started, he said, is bringing gang specialists into the department’s patrol teams. A former narcotics officer with the NPD’s Special Investigations Unit, Huff said that unit made great strides in reducing gang crime a decade or so ago.
“We were able to put a lid on that, but right now that lid is getting a little bit loose,” he said.
Henry said he would like to see more vigilant traffic enforcement and more personal connections between officers and community members.
I want to see police officers walking downtown, talking with merchants.
Nampa Mayor Bob Henry
On Sept. 29, 2011, Lt. Huff, Sgt. Curtis Shankel and investigator Leonard Claunts sued the city in federal court, alleging that department and city leaders ignored numerous policy violations and misconduct they uncovered as part of their duties in internal affairs. Those issues ranged from an officer’s use of excessive force to top administrators golfing during work hours.
The plaintiffs alleged “a campaign of retaliatory harassment” against them, including notification by then-chief Bill Augsburger that the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office had been asked to conduct an internal affairs investigation against them. They filed the lawsuit one month later.
“We felt we didn’t have any other options,” Huff said.
The city’s response to the complaint denied any retaliation or ignoring of misconduct and said the three officers aimed to undermine the police chief’s authority when he didn’t make the disciplinary decisions they sought. The city alleged the plaintiffs “made baseless allegations, ignored police department policies and took their complaints outside the normal chain of command.”
The suit was settled April 25, 2012.
I could have taken other jobs; I could have just thrown in the towel and went on my way. But I felt that what I was doing was right.
Joe Huff, nominated as Nampa’s next police chief
“Once that was over, I gave the department 150 percent,” Huff said. “We were able as a department to put that behind us and move on. I really feel I’ve grown since that incident.”
Born in Nampa, Huff got interested in the NPD when he was about 8, he said. He joined the department’s Explorer unit when he was 14. By 18, he was old enough to become a reserve officer. When he hit 21 he made the leap to sworn officer, taking a job as a patrolman.
“I want to retire out of this city,” Huff said.
CHOOSING A CHIEF
Mayor Henry said he hasn’t gotten pushback about his choice for Nampa’s next chief, either because of the whistleblower suit or because Huff’s father-in-law, Nampa City Councilman Stephen Kren, is a political ally who campaigned with Henry and lives in the same neighborhood.
Kren, who has served for 20 years and didn’t seek a sixth term, campaigned in 2011 as the dissenting vote in a four-member council that generally went along with then-mayor Tom Dale. He joined forces with Henry, who was making his third try for a council seat and also promised a dissenting voice. Both won, and the two men frequently voted along the same lines, forcing an unprecedented number of 2-2 ties. Two years later, Henry ran for mayor and defeated Dale. The Nampa council has since been expanded to six members.
“This isn’t rewarding some friend or political ally,” Henry said. “Joe is the best person for the job, period.”
Nampa’s past five police chiefs served as deputy chief before their promotion to the top job.
Current Deputy Chief Brad Daniels and Lt. Joe Ramirez also applied. Henry said he didn’t want to “automatically go with the next man up,” but he did want to hire from within the department. He opened the application process to any Nampa officer with the rank of sergeant or higher and said all three candidates were well qualified.
A three-member selection committee — Henry, Councilman Bruce Skaug and Human Resources Director Tina Combs — studied the applicants and comments from police employees.
“A lot of thought went into this,” Henry said. “I had emails, calls or visits from 30 officers. ... I did ride-alongs. I did an anonymous survey.”
That online survey of NPD officers and support staff drew responses from 85 employees, he said. It asked which of the three candidates they supported and why, then gave the opportunity for additional comment. All but three of the respondents indicated a preference for one of the candidates.
Henry said Huff was the choice of 38 percent of the survey respondents, and “of the people who talked to me, that support was way higher.”
“Overwhelmingly, they want change,” he said.
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447
Vote, swearing-in set for Jan. 4
The Nampa City Council vote on confirming a new police chief had been set for Dec. 21 but was pushed back to Jan. 4 “to remove any appearance of inappropriate action,” city spokeswoman Vickie Holbrook said. That’s because Councilman Stephen Kren, who is stepping down at the end of this year, is the father-in-law of proposed chief Joe Huff.
Kren had planned to abstain from the vote, but now it won’t be taken until after the newly elected council members are sworn in Jan. 4, Holbrook said. Huff is expected to be sworn in during that meeting.