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Interim Chief Winegar says Boise Police are 'waiting and watching," and 'have some trust to rebuild'

Interim Boise Police Chief Ron Winegar
Boise Police Department, Boise State Public Radio
Interim Boise Police Chief Ron Winegar

After nearly three decades on the Boise Police force, Ron Winegar was settling into retirement. Then, things fell apart. In the wake of former Chief Ryan Lee resigning at the request of the mayor, Winegar agreed to serve as an interim chief until the mayor could find a replacement.

But then, less than two months later, it was discovered that a former police captain had been regularly promoting racist ideologies. The tailspin at the department intensified, and an independent probe has since been launched.

“It is sad and unfortunate and very disappointing, the circumstances that caused us to maybe lose some of that trust with our community,” said Winegar. “But we are 100% committed to rebuilding trust where needed.”

As part of a series of conversations regarding law enforcement, and the Boise Police Department in particular, Winegar visited with Morning Edition to talk about the investigation, the cautious nature of the rank-and-file, and what it will take to recruit the next generation of men and women who will “serve and protect.”

Read the full transcript below.

More from this series:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. We are fortunate to spend some time this morning with the person in charge at the Boise Police Department, and that is interim Police Chief Ron Winegar. Chief, good morning.

INTERIM POLICE CHIEF RON WINEGAR: Good morning, George. Good to be with you this morning.

PRENTICE: 27 years on the force. Retired. But then you get a call from the mayor to come back because… well, we needed a chief. You said yes. My first question is: Considering all that needs to be done, it may be quite some time before we get a new permanent chief. Are you committed to staying on the job until…..well, whatever takes?

WINEGAR: I would say absolutely. Yes, I am. And for background on that subject just a little bit, when the mayor called, it was completely out of the blue. And when she called, she asked if I would be willing to come back and serve for a time. And I did ask what “for a time” meant. And she said, “I don't know.” And we're probably still in that realm. We don't know for sure how long that that time will be. But I am absolutely here for as long as I'm helpful and as long as I'm needed.

PRENTICE: And indeed, we've had a couple of wrinkles since then. So, Chief, I'd like to talk about trust this morning. We, as citizens…and you know this community as well as anyone… we need to trust those men and women sworn to protect us. That trust, unfortunately, was compromised by the…. well, quite frankly, the mess that was left behind by a former Boise police captain. Chief, can you talk to the community about trust?

WINEGAR: Absolutely. Trust is integral to success in law enforcement or in policing, because to really do the job that the folks in our community expect us to do, we have to have relationships of trust. And those are only built with time and with interaction and with shared experiences. So, we recognize that there are there are some folks in our community who certainly come into that relationship from a perspective of distrust. And we also recognize that the experiences that we've had recently have damaged that trust, not only with those who may tend to distrust anyway, but even with the folks that we've had good relationships with in the past and who have who've had good experiences with us. This causes everyone to take a moment and think about whether they do have trust in us. And we recognize that and understand it. And it is sad and unfortunate and very disappointing. The circumstances that have most recently caused us to maybe lose some of that trust with our community. But we are 100% committed to rebuilding trust where needed and building trust, if we don't have a relationship with some folks in our community. So, we certainly are open, and we want to have all kinds of conversations as well as we just want to show that we are trustworthy day in and day out. The officers that go out there, they patrol, they respond to calls for service. Our detectives work cases, our community outreach folks are participating in events. And we recognize we have some trust to rebuild and gain. But they are working hard day in and day out. And I think they are just as disappointed as I am that that we're in the position we are in. We are committed to making it better for sure.

PRENTICE: Indeed, we have an independent investigation already underway. So, to that issue of trust, I have to assume that the women and men of the rank and file, they also need to trust that the investigation will be conducted with integrity and that it’s not a witch hunt.

WINEGAR: Absolutely. And I think they are they are waiting; and they are watching, and they are hoping to see that that is the case. And in my interactions with the members of the Steptoe organization… certainly I've had some conversations with their representatives and I've been interviewed. And I know that several members of our command staff are slated to be interviewed in this next week. And I think everyone's waiting to see that the scope of that investigation and the intent of it is it as promised, is it what is it going to be like? And so, I think I think folks have a curious nature and they want to know, but they're a little hesitant for sure. And we'll just have to see in time. But my experience so far is they've been very, very reasonable, very cordial, and very professional in their approach. So, I’m cautiously optimistic and I'm hopeful that things will go well. And I certainly know that they have a reputation for being thorough and fair professionals so that that is good on that end. But I know folks are just a little uneasy and they're waiting to see.

PRENTICE: I know you've had a little bit of time to think about this. Are you confident that former Captain Matt Bryngelson did not infect the department?

WINEGAR: You know, that's an interesting question and a probably a loaded question When you use the term, has it “infected” the department…

PRENTICE: Well, I use that word only because, quite frankly, the team that is leading the investigation use that word. When they made their presentation to council. I understand words are important, but it was their word.

WINEGAR: Yes. And I think it's important. I guess I would answer by saying the department that I know, the people that I know and have worked with for over a quarter of a century. I have never seen or heard or experienced racist behavior. I have never seen that enter into any conversations. And so, I'm confident that we're in a good place. But I am also disappointed that that we are where we are. So, I guess the question of Captain Bryngelson having those ideologies…., former Captain Bryngelson having those ideologies… and those thoughts and those ideas, that was a surprise to me as well. So, I look forward to the results of the investigation. I think I know what they will be, but nobody knows for sure until it's concluded. And so, my encouragement to all of our members participating in that investigation is simply to be helpful and be willing to engage and to discuss and to answer questions. And I think we will get where we need to be. My hope… and more than just my blind hope… I truly believe that it will show that our organization has. The vast majority of members being fair and impartial and dedicated and dutiful in their efforts to enforce the law and to be impartial in the in the work that they do.

PRENTICE: Chief, this must be an interesting time to recruit potentially really good cops and keep good cops. Talk to me a bit about this environment that we're in and attracting the best of the best to serve and protect.

WINEGAR: It is an interesting time. And if anybody is paying attention across the country, this is not a unique problem. It is an issue. And frankly, we have it probably a lot better here than many places in the country. We are still seeing people who have good hearts and good intentions and want to be part of a noble profession and make a difference in their community, both coming in as a new officer as well as we have a number of folks from other areas of the country who are interested in Boise as a way of life and the Boise Police Department in particular as a professional, well-run organization. And we certainly have issues and problems to work through, but we are finding that there still are people out there that want to do this job. It is tough in that the profession has taken a hit for sure over the past. It pick the timeline two or three years. There is there has been a lot of scrutiny placed on policing and law enforcement in general. And that is that is heavy. And it's not just in Minneapolis or just in Chicago or New York or Portland or Seattle. It's everywhere. That heaviness certainly weighs on even our officers here in Boise. But we also have the tremendous support of our community. And I think it's worth mentioning that that we do have even now and even today, a tremendous amount of support and good feeling and good interactions with members of our community. So, we are fortunate. It is a challenge, no doubt, and everybody is looking for good, qualified candidates. And so, we are competing in a pretty tough market. But we do have some advantages, especially living in this part of the Pacific Northwest where we just have a great community.

PRENTICE: Well, that heaviness and support, no doubt, is measured every day in the corner office at the Boise Police Department. He is Ron Winegar, Interim Police Chief. Chief, thanks for giving us some time this morning.

WINEGAR: It was my pleasure. Any time.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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