Boise mayor said she’d seek applicants, but plans changed. Meet the new police chief

·5 min read

The Boise City Council unanimously approved Ron Winegar’s appointment as Boise police chief Tuesday, providing the city with a permanent chief after former Chief Ryan Lee resigned more than seven months ago.

“Especially in these times, steady leadership is deeply appreciated,” Mayor Lauren McLean said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Winegar began as an officer with the police department in 1993, and served as acting chief after former Chief William Bones retired in 2019 and as deputy chief until 2021. In 1997, Winegar was shot while responding to a traffic stop in Boise. Officer Mark Stall was killed during the same incident, and Winegar received a department Purple Heart, Medal of Valor, and the State of Idaho Medal of Honor for his actions that day, according to the news release.

Winegar was a finalist to become police chief in 2020, when McLean picked Lee to be Boise’s new chief, and he has served as interim chief since Lee’s resignation at the request of the mayor.

He said he hopes to focus on recruiting, hiring and training officers.

McLean shifts plan in hiring police chief

When McLean named Winegar as interim chief in October, she said the search for a permanent chief would begin “immediately” with the hiring of a recruiting firm and a partnership with the “City Council, union members, community leaders, and residents,” according to a news release at the time. The release said the process could take up to a year.

That plan changed in the ensuing months. The city did not end up hiring a recruiting firm or taking applications for the job, McLean spokesperson Maria Weeg told the Idaho Statesman by email.

McLean said Winegar had conducted what amounted to “an on-the-job interview for about six months.” She said he had been a strong leader while serving as interim chief, which was why she asked him to serve as permanent chief.

City Council members said they supported the selection of Winegar.

“I think you’re the right person at the right time,” Council Member Luci Willits said. “I think you’re the right person to hit the reset button.”

Winegar told the Statesman that he had not discussed becoming permanent chief with McLean until a few weeks ago, when he had a meeting with McLean about the department. A couple of days later, they met again, and she asked him to become permanent chief.

“She felt good about the things that we were accomplishing together in the city,” he said. “She felt good about the leadership that I had been demonstrating and asked if I would step into the permanent role.”

Winegar said he took the weekend to consider the proposal — similar to how he had asked for a bit of time to ponder coming out of retirement to become interim chief last fall — before accepting.

Winegar will be paid an annual salary of $196,352 as chief, Weeg said — the same amount that Lee made previously.

Winegar wants resources to address officers’ ‘traumas’

The police department has faced several controversies in recent months, including the resignation of the former chief, complaints about leadership and revelations of a retired, veteran captain’s racist views. Recent statistics put together by the Ada County Sheriff’s Office showed that Black people are arrested disproportionately in Boise, at three times the rate of white people.

Winegar said he thinks the department has the support of the “vast majority” of the community, adding that the reality of the disproportionate statistics “are a lot more complicated than they may seem.”

Last month, McLean announced finalists to lead the Office of Police Accountability, after former Director Jesus Jara was fired. Winegar said he has not been directly involved in that process but that he is confident the department will be able to work with whoever is selected. The police accountability office is not within the police department and serves an oversight role over policing in the city.

“We partner with members of our community, we are part of that community,” he said. “We don’t police our community, we provide policing services to our community.”

McLean said the number of promotions and recruitment at the department are rising.

But between 2021 and 2022, traffic citations dropped by 40%, according to reporting by KBOI.

Winegar said the department is “certainly not” where it wants to be on recruitment, but that he is focusing on resolving the issue.

“We hope to be able to be fully staffed at our authorized strength within the next year or two,” he said, adding the department also wants to increase how many officers it is allowed to hire.

Earlier this year, the city and the police department’s union agreed upon 13% raises for officers between last fall and this fall. Winegar also said he wants to focus on officer wellness programs, because of the challenges officers face that “leave a mark, (they) leave a scar,” he said.

“We have to be willing to invest some resources into addressing the issues that come along with the traumas of the job,” he said. He also said some officers have struggled to come to Boise because of the cost of housing, which he wants to change.

“I would just ask the members of our community to give us the opportunity to serve you better,” he said. “This country and our communities have too much vitriol, and hatred, and anger expressed to one another, and so I would just ask for civility. Let’s work together.”