Jason Soto was recommended today by City Manager Andrew Clinger for continued appointment as acting chief of the Reno Police Department (RPD). He will serve officially as the assistant chief of police and receive pay at that level, $142,031.02 a year.
He has held the acting chief position since April of 2015.
A national search firm was selected to develop a pool of candidates for the police chief position, but Soto has received so much community support, including support from the council, that the council has had to wrestle with how to appoint him when he does not meet minimum qualifications for the position.
“(The minimum qualifications) are staying in place,” Clinger said.
Soto does not have a bachelor’s degree and the required management experience, but his tenure as acting police chief was praised by Clinger.
“He has done an outstanding job of demonstrating leadership,” said Clinger. “When you look at the state of policing across the county, it comes down to attitude. Jason … has demonstrated tremendous results in a very short period of time.”
As acting chief, Soto will continue to work toward meeting the position’s qualifications, expecting to be finished in December 2017. Clinger recommended halting the search process because Soto “meets the attributes (of the position).” The council approved a motion to suspend the search.
There were some questions about Soto’s continued appointment as acting chief.
Councilmember Jenny Brekhus called the RPD a “paramilitary organization” and said that Soto’s appointment was “very divided” in the community. She said personnel issues still continue in the department and was concerned about Soto’s initial appointment as acting chief. She said she wants to see progress reports from RPD during Soto’s tenure as acting chief.
Soto received 98 letters of support of his continued appointment and two in opposition prior to today’s meeting. Mayor Hillary Schieve said she’s received hundreds of letters in support of Soto and two letters in opposition from inside the department, which she called “disgusting.”
Councilmember Neoma Jardon said Soto “has done an exemplary job, without question. You have the respect internally and community respect externally.” But she did ask Clinger if Soto’s lack of qualifications was putting the community at risk.
“Not at all,” Clinger said. He cited Soto’s credibility in the community as a chief qualification that is often lacking in communities currently facing criticism of its police departments.
Councilman David Bobzien praised Soto: “There’s no doubt in my mind that … Soto is doing a fantastic job.”
But he said he wrestled with the appointment process. “The charter does make it very clear. When a chief position comes forward, we ratify,” he said. “It’s on you mister manager. We struggle mightily to stay out of your kitchen. We have to kind of stand back and say … it is the manager’s job to put this in place.”
Councilman Oscar Delgado said, “It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Jason. You’ve done a fantastic job. You’re meeting the qualifications in the sense of the community.”
Soto said he was grateful for the process.
“I thank the City Manager and City Council for the opportunity to continue to lead the Reno Police Department,” he said. “In today’s environment a community’s respect for law enforcement isn’t granted by the badge, but earned by our actions.
“That’s a responsibility I take seriously. We have been fortunate at RPD to have sworn and professional members who work hard every day to earn the respect of our community.”
Soto thanked his executive staff and the police.
“We are truly fortunate for them,” he added. “I actually work for them. I work for everybody in this community. I am very proud and thank you for your faith in this police department.”
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.