Back in March, just after former Winthrop Mayor Anne Acheson fired Marshal Hal Henning — again leaving the town with no police force — I posed a question in this column:
“What will it take, Winthrop residents may be wondering, to ensure that the town has a full complement of police officers (in this case, two) who might stick around for a while?”
It took about 10 months, as it turns out, but we may have an answer. With the August hiring of Marshal Dan Tindall and the recent addition of Deputy Marshal Doug Johnson, Winthrop has two full-time officers on the force for the first time since mid-2015. They are both experienced law enforcement officers who say they are committed to the community, and they may well bring long-sought stability and continuity to the marshal’s office. (For more about Johnson, see the article in this week’s newspaper.)
Although these may be the final law enforcement jobs in their respective careers, neither Tindall nor Johnson is in retirement mode. I think we can expect them to be visible and involved, and their experience will be valuable to other law enforcement agencies that serve the valley.
Having two officers on duty may take some adjustment in our thinking since we’re used to one or none.
That wasn’t always the case. It has been nearly three years since Winthrop had three full-time officers in the field. That had been the standard for quite a while, but it wasn’t always easy for the town to hang on to deputies or marshals.
In late 2015, former Acting Marshal Ken Bajema proposed, and the Town Council accepted, a plan to reduce the marshal’s office from three to two full-time officers. That was the situation when Henning was hired in mid-2016. Before he was fired in February 2017, Henning tried to hire a deputy but wasn’t successful (he blamed interference by Acheson).
The restoration of Winthrop’s police department may not be complete. The 2018 town budget includes funding for another deputy, which would return the town to a three-officer complement again. (The Town of Twisp, which got by with two officers for a couple of years, now has a three-officer force.)
Tindall and Johnson were both hired during the short mayoral tenure of Rick Northcott, a longtime Town Council member who was named to succeed Acheson after she resigned in June (Northcott did not run for re-election). The process for vetting and hiring them was apparently thorough enough to be satisfactory for Northcott and the town’s civil service commission to endorse.
I think we’re all ready for some calm. The town is moving forward with a new mayor and a mostly-new Town Council. There was some talk of bringing Henning back if the election went a different way, but I don’t think that was ever realistic. Still, the aftershocks of Henning’s dismissal continue with a lawsuit the former marshal recently filed against the town, claiming that he was illegally fired. That action will have to wend its course through the court system, which may take a while. Meanwhile, the town’s business goes on and its law enforcement expectations are being met.
In the lessons-to-be-learned area, it’s worth noting that a common theme emerged from the town’s recent history with its law enforcement leadership. Each of the past three marshals — Bajema, his predecessor Rikki Schwab and Henning — said that their authority to operate the department had been compromised at some point by the interference of the town’s elected leaders. Tindall and recently elected Mayor Sally Ranzau will need to develop a productive working relationship that recognizes the mayor’s authority while supporting the marshal’s law enforcement prerogatives.
In recent years, the recurring vacancies in Winthrop generated on-again, off-again discussion of whether the Marshal’s Office and the Twisp Police Department should merge. Winthrop’s recent hires may relegate those talks to off-again status for a while.
The towns’ police forces, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol have a long history of helping each other out when they can. With a huge area to cover and limited resources, police protection for the Methow Valley has always been a stretched blue line. Two veteran officers in Winthrop will add some welcome reassurance.