Iwai ready to take the reins of Ontario Police Department

Mike Iwai, who will soon retire from the Oregon State Police, will step into the chief’s position for the Ontario Police Department March 1. (The Enterprise/FILE).

ONTARIO – Mike Iwai can thank ABC for triggering his desire to become a police officer.

Iwai, who has been hired as Ontario’s new police chief starting next March, said when he was a child he watched “The Six Million Dollar Man,” a 1970s TV series on ABC about a former astronaut who was transformed into a bionic man.

“When I was in middle or elementary school I remember watching the bionic man, and I remember him being equipped in a way to help people,” said Iwai.

Iwai replaces Steve Romero, who left the position in October.

Iwai has come a long way since the days of watching that television series while growing up California.

For nearly 30 years – including a four-year stint in the U.S. Army as a military policeman – he has worked in an array of command and police patrol positions.

Most of his career time was with the Oregon State Police.

At the end of this year, Iwai will have logged 25 years with the state agency and will retire.

“I am extremely thankful for the Oregon State Police,” he said.

Iwai said as the end of his state police career loomed he just “knew I wanted to do something different.

Iwai said a friend mentioned that Ontario was looking for a new police chief.

“It wasn’t on my radar, so I applied and went through the process and here we are,” said Iwai.

Meanwhile, the city hired Steve Bartol, a retired Oregon City police chief, to fill in until Iwai takes over, said Ontario City Manager Adam Brown.

Iwai said that early in his career, he applied for a transfer to the Ontario state police station and it was granted. Not long after, though, a death in his family prompted Iwai to change his plans.

Iwai said he doesn’t believe a switch from a large state agency to a small police department will be a challenge. That’s because, he said, early on in his career as a patrol officer he was stationed as a Polk County resident trooper and learned a lot about small, rural towns.

“I really got an opportunity to interact with small communities. Working with police departments, attending city council meetings, I learned a lot as a young trooper,” said Iwai.

Iwai said cooperation and understanding are the keys to being a small-town police chief.

“I really like working with the community ­– getting to know the stakeholders and partners and really trying to solve problems. That is something I’ve focused on in any program I have been involved in,” said Iwai.

Iwai said one of his goals as a supervisor is to “develop people.”

“I believe that is incumbent on leadership. The big thing I’ve seen in law enforcement has been the lack of personal leadership in many ways. So, I really focus on health and wellness, trying to say it is important you take care of yourself, physically, mentally and spiritually,” he said.

Iwai said he is excited about becoming Ontario’s next police chief.

“The department has a lot of potential,” he said.

He said he also is looking forward to living in Ontario.

“You’ve got great weather, and a community of folks who are practical and the pace, I think eastern Oregon fits much better to my personality,” said Iwai.

Iwai, who earned a master’s degree in business administration from Bushnell University recently, said he isn’t ready to make any wide-sweeping changes when he starts in March.

“I really want the opportunity to get in there to meet the officers. I want to ride with them, get to know them and I need to understand what is going on internally and externally,” said Iwai.

First off, though, Iwai said he will address “what my boss wants me to address.”

Iwai said he also plans to reach out to business leaders in the community.

“I want to find out what their concerns are. I want to be realistic and practical in my approach,” he said.

Iwai said their local area with a high poverty rate faces challenges. Crime, he said, appears to be increasing.

“Crime is up in almost every category you can think of. With crime reduction, you have to talk education and enforcement but those are tied into available resources,” he said.

Another important piece to his job as chief, Iwai said, is to deliver solutions to elected and appointed leaders.

Iwai said his training and experience with the state police taught him “a lot about planning.”

“That’s been instrumental in how I think. A good example is partnerships. That is something I will bring to Ontario. I want to build relationships,” he said.

Iwai said he is ready to get started.

“Any issues that the police department has when I get there, they will be addressed and 100% of my attention given to them,” he said.

Brown said Iwai’s salary will be $107,000 a year.

News tip? Contact Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

Previous coverage:

Ex-chief sees challenges, urban issues facing Ontario police

Misconduct complaint against Ontario police chief surfaces at Tuesday’s council meeting

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