Ken Bajema

Returns to former job after time away from valley

Winthrop’s newest police officer is already a veteran of the Winthrop Marshal’s Office.

In fact, Deputy Marshal Ken Bajema has seniority in Winthrop over Marshal Dan Tindall and Deputy Doug Johnson.

Bajema, who earlier served as a town deputy and twice as acting marshal before leaving the department in December 2015, recently returned as Winthrop’s third police officer, bringing the Marshal’s Office to full strength for the first time in several years.

In an interview last week, Bajema said he is happy to return to a job that he always loved.

After his resignation in 2015, Bajema and his family moved to Tacoma, where he worked in real estate. One reason, he said, was that he wanted his children to have a city experience. He said he did well in real estate “but it wasn’t my thing.” After returning to the valley, Bajema worked as a reserve officer for the Twisp Police Department.

That left him, Bajema said, with “one foot in and one foot out” of law enforcement, so when he was urged to apply for the deputy marshal opening in Winthrop, he felt like he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“I missed doing the job,” he said. Readjusting didn’t take long. “I like seeing everybody again. It’s like I didn’t really leave,” he said.

Full force

The difference this time is that he has other officers to work with.

Bajema first joined the Marshal’s Office as a deputy to Marshal Dave Dahlstrom in 2010. He had been working in information technology but said he always wanted to be a police officer.

When Dahlstrom resigned in 2013, Bajema became the interim marshal until Rikki Schwab was hired as marshal in May 2014. When Schwab resigned a little more than a year later, Bajema again acted as interim marshal — and the town’s only officer. His resignation in 2015 left the town without a police force until June 2016, when Hal Henning was named marshal. Before Henning could hire a deputy, he was fired by then-Mayor Ann Acheson for undisclosed personnel reasons in February 2017 — again leaving the town with no officers.

Marshal Dan Tindall, a former Washington State Patrol trooper, was hired in August 2017. Tindall subsequently hired veteran Tukwila police officer Doug Johnson as a deputy in late 2017, and brought Bajema back to the force a few weeks ago.

“They are great guys with decades of experience,” Bajema said of Tindall and Johnson.

Frustration in past

Bajema left under strained circumstances in 2015. In a letter to the Methow Valley News at the time, Bajema explained his reasons for departing and expressed frustration at how the department has been “micromanaged” during his five-and-a-half year tenure.

“I can’t continue to put my own safety at risk and can’t work solo without any help” for months at a time, Bajema said in an interview at the time.

Bajema said there were other operational issues related to the marshal’s office. In his letter to the newspaper, Bajema cited examples of what he said were restrictions on the department’s ability to manage its own budget.

Bajema reiterated last week that “I felt there was too much micromanagement” in the Marshal’s Office at the time. “You have to hire qualified people and let them do their jobs,” he said.

One thing Bajema likes, besides being back in a small community, is that because there are only three officers and no detectives, “we get to do everything.”

Although the pace is slower here, Bajema said that local law enforcement agencies are dealing with problems seen elsewhere, such a drug abuse and property crimes. “You have to be prepared for anything,” he said.

“We are on it,” he said of the drug problem, which includes opioid and heroin usage. “It just takes time.”

Bajema said police officers have to find a “common sense ground” between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law in small-town enforcement. “If I didn’t have discretion, I wouldn’t want to do the job,” he said. Another important factor, he said, is that local police jurisdictions including the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, Twisp Police Department and Washington State Patrol all support interagency cooperation.

Bajema said the political situation in Winthrop is more stable now, which helped in his decision to return. “I just want to be a police officer,” he said. “I don’t want to play politics, and now I don’t have to.”