TONASKET — New Police Chief Darin Odegaard, sworn in Monday, July 9, said he is loving his new job.
“It’s fun, people come out of the woodwork and give us hugs. It’s a neat feeling,” said Odegaard.
Tonasket had been without any police officers since Interim Chief Travis West’s last day May 17. The city relied on coverage from the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.
Also sworn in July 9 was Reserve Officer John Cruz.
“I don’t deserve to have this much fun,” he said with a chuckle.
Cruz was an officer with the Republic Police Department after working for Ferry County Sheriff’s Office. Odegaard who worked there four years as a deputy.
“John came on as a reserve officer, but will most likely go full time,” said Odegaard. “We had such time restraints, so I made the decisions I could with the authority I had then.”
Odegaard said he was waiting for City Clerk-Treasurer Alice Attwood to return from vacation to discuss the matter with her.
As a reserve officer, Cruz can work only 32 hours per week.
“There are exclusions to that, but I’m hoping to put him on full time. That is my intent,” said Odegaard. “He has a lot of training already, including military experience where he was airborne with the Army.”
Odegaard said Cruz earned a degree in psychology with a minor in law and worked as a mental health professional.
“He’s phenomenal with children,” said Odegaard. “He can figure stuff out right on his feet. We worked together a little in Republic, rode together a few times. He’s really motivated.”
Odegaard said Cruz, who is Puerto Rican, is fluent in Spanish and has a lot of training in interrogation.
Cruz, a father of three, was offered a job by another department in eastern Washington but chose to come to Tonasket, the chief said.
Odegaard also had words of praise for the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.
“I am impressed with my county deputies that are in this area. Some of them will have to show me the ropes. We are just now getting our computers going. There’s no one here to tell you how to do anything,” said Odegaard, adding he came in several times on his days off as a Ferry County sheriff’s deputy, and rode along with West.
“You can’t learn this job in just 20 hours,” said Odegaard. “It’s no secret we have an uphill battle. I think the public knows the hurdles we have, and most are respectful of that and patient.”
Odegaard said he wants to focus on the positive.
“It doesn’t matter who did what and how we ended up in the situation we’re in. I’m really impressed with the support of this city, and it is motivating to me,” said Odegaard. “It’s expensive relocating, but if we can all work together, that would be huge.”
Odegaard said he was trying to clean up “the mess” upstairs in the police department.
“How that building has gone as long as it did the way it is, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just a hurdle you have to tackle. It all comes down to not having anybody up there to guide him (former staff) and help make decisions, and the morale goes downhill.
“Without someone to stand up for him or address issues, it gets frustrating. In our business you need protection and you need tools. Anybody who’s been an officer is always looking for some guidance or support. Everybody wants to be supported.”
Odegaard said he had several friends who were veteran officers in the field to turn to for support and guidance.
“Any time you move to a new agency, you have a field training officer and people to bounce things off, but not here,” said Odegaard. “My goals are to make the office functional. And try to handle calls with the minimal staff I have.
“I have a couple people we are looking at hiring, and one would be lateral. The county ultimately wants to help us, but I don’t think they have the man power either.
“Law enforcement is a team, a brotherhood. When one place is out of control, that’s where everybody is going to go. It’s in the best interest of us to share information and work together, and they have definitely done a phenomenal job.”
Odegaard said that while he sees K-9 officers as a great tool, acquiring another one is not a top priority right now.
“I would like to see the city have a dog, but when rebuilding a department, you’ve got to get boots on the floor before you worry about a lot of other stuff,” Odegaard said. “John (Cruz) loves dogs, but it takes so much time to be a K-9 handler. You are devoted to that. If you are handling calls and you have a dog in the car, that’s all well and good but if you are spending three hours typing up a report, that’s not fair to the dog. It’s like having six cars and only one officer. It’s not a top priority right now.”
Odegaard said the city had two police cars in the budget and asked him to research and see if he liked what they were hoping to purchase and if they would fit the department’s needs.
“Right now, we have three cars, two went to the shop and got some work done,” Odegaard said. “You don’t want to stuff someone in a car that is not functioning, or to be going 100 mph and the tire blows off.”
Despite obstacles, Odegaard and Cruz have already begun to clean up the streets.
“I got rid of the problematic RV behind the Round Up,” said Odegaard. “It was being lived in illegally against county ordinance and parked illegally after being involved in a minor accident.
“The second day on the job, I made my first arrest for domestic violence,” said Odegaard. “The ink wasn’t even dry on my contract.”
Odegaard, who is on the current ballot for Ferry County Sheriff, said he intends to stay in Tonasket, even if elected.
“I wouldn’t take it,” Odegaard said of the sheriff post. “I left Ferry County to provide services for Tonasket.”