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Kitsap native takes helm at State Patrol District 8

You might say law-enforcement is in the blood of Captain Gail Otto, who was appointed on Nov. 27 as the new District 8 commander for the Washington State Patrol.

That could explain why the 54-year-old wanted to take on the post, which covers Kitsap, Mason, Clallam, Jefferson, Grays Harbor, Pacific and Wahkiakum counties.

Otto, born and raised in Kitsap County, learned early on from his father Reinhold Otto the importance of serving and protecting the public. The elder Otto worked as a patrolman for the Bremerton Police Department for 25 years before retiring.

That tradition notwithstanding, the younger Otto has served the state patrol in various forms over the last 28 years and wants to continue for at least another six years. His goals are clear.

Otto wants to help better prepare his District 8 troopers for the uncertain times created by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and take on fiscal challenges such as creating more efficiencies in his district’s budget.

“This is a challenging position, but I’ve got good people I can trust,” said Otto, who believes the strength of the agency hinges on team-building and cooperation. “I’m really blessed.”

Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer, who for 20 years worked with Otto in the state patrol, says the WSP veteran is a good choice for citizens.

“The one trait of Gail’s that stands out is his trustworthiness,” said Boyer. “You can depend on him to get the job done.”

Otto, who took over Boyer’s job after the sheriff’s 1999 election victory, now replaces departing Commander Maurice King.

King recently became one of three deputy chiefs for the Washington State Patrol in Olympia.

Last week, Otto had already rolled up his sleeves and dug into the issues at hand, outlining a vision for District 8.

“The world is different than it was before Sept. 11,” said Otto. “ My goal is to help prepare troopers for the 21st century by putting together more training and planning exercises.”

Otto said that in most areas of the county — except South Kitsap’s Fire District 8 — the Washington State Patrol is responsible for managing the scene of a hazardous material incident, such as an anthrax scare.

“We have to know what resources are required, what resources are available and a lot about the players,” he said. “In other words, with a (suspected) anthrax-laced letter, there could be a lot more to it...all of these things have to be thought about.”

A recent anthrax scare at the Bremerton Transportation Center turned out to be unfounded, but not before multiple jurisdictions converged on the scene such as local police, fire district personnel and military hazardous materials teams. It was up to the Washington State Patrol to manage the scene.

Otto wants to build on existing experiences to help troopers deal with similar incidents in the future should they arise.

Boyer says if anyone can better prepare District 8 troopers for those types of events in the future, it’s Otto.

“I think the citizens and the community will benefit from his appointment,” said the sheriff. “He can put aside turf issues and work cooperatively with other law enforcement agencies to get the job done. That will be a critical skill in the lean years ahead and in these uncertain times.”

Otto also plans to work for more efficiencies in his district, with the advent of performance based budgeting procedures.

He’s nervous, but trusts the people around him to put together the right plan.

“If you have the right team together you can move mountains,” said Otto. “If you try to do everything yourself, you’re destined to fail.”

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