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Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay leaving to take job in Wichita

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Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay pauses during a news conference Friday announcing that he is leaving to become the chief of police in Wichita, Kan. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 3
Gordon Ramsay3 / 3

After nearly a decade as the city’s top cop, Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay will step away next month to lead the largest police department in Kansas.

Ramsay on Friday was introduced as Wichita’s next police chief, just four days after he met with city leaders and community groups in the city of 382,000.

Ramsay, 43, has led the Duluth Police Department since 2006, earning praise from community leaders for his administration’s focus on community policing, technology and accountability initiatives.

“The decision to leave didn’t come lightly,” a somber Ramsay said at a Friday afternoon news conference. “I love policing. I don’t want to do anything else.”

In his new job, Ramsay will head a department with an annual budget of $82 million and more than 830 employees — about four times the size of Duluth. The department has been without a permanent leader for more than a year.

Ramsay starts in Wichita on Jan. 28 at a salary of $170,000, up from $114,000 in Duluth. No firm date has been set for his departure from Duluth.

Ramsay, a Duluth native, was the youngest and one of the longest-serving chiefs in Duluth’s history. He has worked as a police officer for 22 years, joining the city of Duluth in 1996.

The announcement was met with bittersweet emotions from local leaders, who congratulated Ramsay on his new position but said his absence will be felt.

Outgoing Duluth Mayor Don Ness, who has only worked with one police chief in his eight-year tenure, called Ramsay “a real champion for our community.”

“Gordon represents the very best in modern policing,” Ness said. “He brings those traditional qualities that we expect in a police chief — someone who’s tough and strong, someone who’s decisive. But then he also brings these more modern skills that are so often lacking in police leadership across the nation — a sense of investing in the importance of community relations, a sense of kindness and a broader world view.”

A decision on Ramsay’s successor will be up to Mayor-elect Emily Larson, who takes office on Jan. 4.

Larson told the News Tribune on Friday that she’ll seek public input on the hiring process. She said an interim appointment will likely be necessary until the city finds the right fit.

“I think it’s important to have a process that is transparent and encourages participation from the community,” Larson said. “It’s OK if that takes a long time.”

Larson has known Ramsay since the mid-1990s, when he was a downtown beat cop and they served on the Life House board of directors.

“I’m so happy for him,” she said. “He’s been a really important, transformative person here in a lot of ways for the entire community. He loves community policing, and switching careers is not really an option for him. What we can’t give him is that next size community that’s ready for him.”

Ramsay’s departure was not without warning. He was named a finalist on Dec. 4, and the Wichita Eagle this week reported that he was being offered the position.

Ramsay said he wasn’t seeking to leave Duluth, but was intrigued by the opportunity in Wichita. He said he was encouraged to apply by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

He said the Wichita Police Department has seen a “rift” with communities of color. He hoped to address issues that have already been tackled in Duluth: technology, community relations, transparency.

“The more I read and the more I looked at it, the more excited I got,” Ramsay said. “A lot of their issues are things that we’ve dealt with successfully here.”

Ramsay was up against Jeff Spivey, an assistant police chief in Irving, Texas. Spivey earlier this week was named a finalist for police chief in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The Wichita position had been open since September 2014, when then-Chief Norman Williams retired. An initial search for the new chief yielded two candidates, but one took another job and the city made a decision not to hire the other, necessitating a second search that yielded 62 applicants and seven semifinalists.

Wichita City Manager Robert Layton, who made the final hiring decision, cited Ramsay’s nine years as a police chief, his commitment to community policing and the implementation of a body camera program.

“We needed the right leader for the future, and I believe we have achieved that with Gordon,” Layton said in a news release.

Duluth last summer became the largest department in the state to fully implement a body camera program. During Ramsay’s tenure, the city also established a Citizen Review Board and opened a state-of-the-art law enforcement headquarters with the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office.

Ness said two issues from Ramsay’s tenure stand out: his response to the June 2012 flood and his efforts to tackle the scourge of synthetic drugs and close downtown’s Last Place on Earth head shop.

“He has accomplished so much in this role over the last 10 years that it’s only natural for him to seek out those bigger challenges,” Ness said. “Fortunately, we don’t have those much larger challenges for a guy like Gordon Ramsay to take on and feel satisfied for the remainder of his career.”

Ramsay grew up in Duluth, graduating from Duluth East High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth. He worked at police departments in Iron River and suburban Milwaukee before returning to his hometown. Ramsay later earned a master’s degree in management from the College of St. Scholastica.

Mike Tusken, who has been with the Duluth Police Department for 23 years, recalled that he sat on the hiring panel that interviewed Ramsay for an entry-level police officer position in 1996.

“Everyone else paled in comparison,” Tusken said. “We knew this guy was going to be chief someday.”

When Mayor Herb Bergson appointed him chief in 2006, Ramsay named Tusken to a deputy chief spot. Tusken, who indicated that he’ll likely apply for the chief job, said he wasn’t surprised that Ramsay was picked in Wichita.

“He was 34 when he was appointed chief, but he thinks like he’s in his 50s,” Tusken said. “He was so mature in his decisions and so thoughtful and innovative in how he sees organizational problems.”

Always true to his roots in community policing, Ramsay said he’s looking forward to hitting the streets in Wichita, as he has been known to in Duluth. But he acknowledged the pace of the chief job will be a “little faster.”

When asked if he was nervous about going into a large police department 800 miles away, Ramsay turned the attention to his family, which includes an 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.

“Probably the most nerve-wracking thing is the family part,” he said. “I’ve got it made here. I’ve got a supportive community, a supportive mayor, a supportive council. I’m going into something where I don’t know what to expect.”