Jamey Kiblinger is the new police chief in Black Diamond, but she’s not a new face to the community.
Kiblinger came to the city as a rookie officer a decade ago. She replaces longtime chief Rick Luther, who after three decades in Black Diamond decided to retire at the end of 2007.
Running the Police Department isn’t new to Kiblinger, either, as she handled the day-to-day duties as commander for the past two years due to Luther wearing multiple hats and the other two most senior officers in the 10-person department retiring within a year of each other.
“I had a little bit of a better transition than some people,” Kiblinger said.
Luther was also serving as the interim city administrator during that time until the City Council appointed Gwendolyn Voelpel to that position in November.
“The city is so busy,” Kiblinger said. “I really thought (Luther) would be here for another five years. It was a little bit of a shock” when he announced his retirement.
Once Luther left, Kiblinger was appointed to be his interim successor, but she declined an initial offer to become chief.
“For many reasons, I just was not interested. I thought someone else would come in,” she said. “We went through our testing process and we had a couple of really good applicants.”
But the top candidate took a job in another city.
Mayor Howard Botts said that after the unsuccessful search outside, city officials chose to look within the department again. Result: The City Council confirmed Kiblinger’s appointment May 15.
“We had gone out and interviewed for police chief. We didn’t find anyone we really thought fit,” Botts said. “After about a month or two of interviewing people, she said she’d like to try and be chief.”
When Kiblinger, 33, first started in Black Diamond, she never would have imagined herself rising through the ranks to become chief. “If you had asked me five months ago, I would have laughed at you,” she said. Now she is the city’s third chief since the department formed in 1959, when Black Diamond had about 1,000 residents.
Kiblinger didn’t even consider law enforcement as a career until she decided to go on a ridealong with a friend’s father who worked for the Seattle Police Department. To that point of her freshman year of college, she was planning to become a teacher.
“I thought it would be fun. I went and I thought, ‘This is what I’ve got to do,’” she said of her introduction in a patrol car to police work.
Kiblinger was born and raised in Snoqualmie. She is a 1993 graduate of Mount Si High School. She went on to earn a bachelor degree in criminal justice with a minor in psychology at Central Washington University in 1997.
Initially, she worked at Echo Glen Children’s Center after graduation for three months before moving to Chelan County Juvenile Center while she tested with law enforcement agencies for possible employment.
“Back then, you tested everywhere,” she said. “You weren’t picky. It’s just so different now. You can’t get people to apply. I remember sitting in the auditorium at the University of Washington testing for Seattle. There were a thousand people there.”
While she was working in Chelan County in late 1997, she got a call from the Everett Police Department. It wanted her but couldn’t send her to the police academy until March.
Then, she related, Luther called from Black Diamond “and said, ‘You’re our no. 1 candidate. But the only caveat is you have to start in two weeks.’”
She jumped at the chance to get into the academy. Kiblinger moved back from Chelan and went into a three-month training in December 1997.
Starting her new job after the academy, Kiblinger wasn’t too familiar with Black Diamond, but she came in with an open mind.
“Everything was new to me, police work was new,” she said. “It was just fun, and when I came on it was a great group of people. Ultimately, the reason I ended up staying is because it’s a great place to work.”
Kiblinger loves her job, especially the opportunity to interact with people. “Good, bad, indifferent – it’s the people,” she said.
Her passion for the job was one of the reasons promoting Kiblinger appealed to Botts and the council.
“She’s a dedicated officer,” Botts said. “She believes in law enforcement. She goes into situations knowing pretty well what she’s going to do before she gets too far into it. She has several things going for her, one of which is she knows most of the people in town. And as the town grows, the challenge will be knowing who’s moving in and what they’re like.”
As Kiblinger grows into the chief’s position, Black Diamond is facing a boom in population growth. YarrowBay Group, a Kirkland-based developer, plans to build thousands of new homes in master-planned communities during the next decade.
Botts feels Kiblinger has the skills to lead the Police Department during the period when the city will likely more than double from its current population of about 4,100.
“She has no problem directing people,” he said. “She’s fully capable of taking charge.”
Kiblinger said the city has done a good job planning for expansion while balancing a desire to maintain a smalltown feel that a recent hire from another community observed.
“He said, ‘Man, they wave at you here all day long. Where I came from, if people waved it was the middle finger,’” she said. “It’s important to keep what Rick (Luther) worked so hard for over the years. The growth is going to come, whether we like it or not. I hope we maintain that community feeling.”
Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and firstname.lastname@example.org