Kelly Bakken, Altoona’s new police chief, realizes the fast growth that the city has experienced in recent years brings challenges, but she views them as opportunities to continue to improve services to city residents.
The Altoona City Council approved an agreement with Bakken on Wednesday, six days after the city Police and Fire Commission chose her from among five finalists for the job.
Altoona’s River Prairie development has blossomed in recent years, the location on the city’s northwest side filling with businesses and recreational space. Such growth has added significantly to the city, Bakken said, but providing services as development has happened quickly can be challenging.
Policing an expanding population could prove difficult at times, she acknowledged.
“That will be one of the challenges of the job,” said the 41-year-old Bakken, who has worked for the past 18 months as Black River Falls police chief. “But I think it will be a good challenge ... It is an opportunity to provide a high level of services to people.”
Key to doing that, she said, is working with community members on police-related issues. That approach is centered on building relationships with residents and convincing them to work with officers, Bakken said. She will make an $83,533 annual salary.
“Any time you are able to work with the community and have that relationship, it is a comfort for the community,” she said. “They feel safer and it makes it easier for police to do their jobs.”
Bakken praised the work of Jesse James, who she will replace as chief when her job is expected to begin in early March, and the rest of his department in building rapport with community members. James left the department last month after his election in November to the state Assembly.
“This department has done a good job of community policing, and I want to build on that,” she said.
City Administrator Mike Golat said the Police and Fire Commission chose Bakken because of her past experience and her ability to work well with others. She started her 21-year law enforcement career as a deputy sheriff jail officer for the St. Croix County sheriff’s office and worked most recently as patrol investigations captain in the Jackson County sheriff’s office before she was hired to lead the Black River Falls Police Department.
“Everyone says she is a real good listener and collaborative,” Golat said. “By all counts she is a quality person, a good leader and I think she will fit well with this community.”