0421 chief john small

Anacortes Police Chief John Small will retire on June 30. (File photo)

Anacortes Police Chief John Small will retire on June 30, ending a nearly 28-year career in law enforcement.

His career will end where it started — at the Anacortes Police Department, where he served in just about every position on the force: as a police officer, field training officer, DARE instructor, volunteer coordinator, detective sergeant, patrol sergeant, police captain and, beginning in 2017, police chief.

“What he brought was truly the definition of servant leadership – serving his community and his officers, leading them and growing them,” Mayor Laurie Gere said Monday. “He’s been a steady, calm leader, making sure every employee is provided the best training and mentorship.”

Recruitment for a new chief will take place June 8 to July 9, City Administrative Services Manager Emily Schuh said. Candidates will be interviewed by a panel of community members, city officials and city department heads. She expects a new police chief will be on the job by early September.

Gere will hire the police chief, though she will present her choice to be confirmed by the City Council. The salary range was not known Monday; Schuh said Small’s annual salary is $133,416.

Small, 62, said his retirement plans include spending time with his grandchildren, finishing some home projects, traveling and, he said in a COVID-related quip, “hopefully losing some weight.” He and his wife have been married for 33 years and have three adult sons and two grandchildren.

“I’ve been blessed with a great family,” he said. “I’m at the age where I have time to do something different and enjoy life a little.”

Law enforcement was Small’s second career — and what he called “the perfect occupation.”

He earned a business administration degree in 1981 from the University of Washington and worked in retail management and sales for several companies, among them Anheuser Busch and Weyerhauser.

“I always had law enforcement in the back of my mind,” he said Monday, but being a young husband with young children, “it wasn’t quite the right time in my life.”

He first explored a law enforcement career in about 1988, when he applied to the FBI. Then, in 1993, he read that the Anacortes Police Department was hiring officers. He was hired and “never looked back,” he said.

He said in his retirement announcement, issued by the mayor’s office: “I am proud to have spent my entire career in Anacortes and it has been an honor and blessing to serve this community.”

Small was appointed chief on April 1, 2017, succeeding Chief Bonnie Bowers upon her retirement. She recalled joining the department as captain when Small was a sergeant and being immediately impressed by his sense of duty and service to the community.

“I don’t think I ever saw him publicly lose his temper,” said Bowers, who is now an Anacortes port commissioner. “He was a consummate professional and kind and would go out of his way to help someone,” she said Monday. “He really has the heart of a servant leader.”

That “servant leader” ethic influenced his recruitment of officers that were seen as a “right fit” for the community during a transformative time for the department, she said.

“We never looked at the equal opportunity data. We were just, like, let’s find the right people. And it just so happened we ended up being a fairly diverse police department for Skagit County,” Bowers said.

On what makes an officer a “right fit” for the community: “This is not a community with a high crime rate, but we are a community that has specific crime issues,” Bowers said. “We don’t always deal with them in the traditional sense. For example, when Mayor Gere came on board, we started looking at drug issues as community health issues as well as criminal issues. And so, over the years, we changed the way we policed a little bit — we looked at solving a problem before it became a criminal problem.

“If you want to be making 500 arrests a year, you’re not going to do it in Anacortes. But if you want to make a difference in the community, if you want to make a difference in a young person’s life or help an elderly person who is, perhaps, being bilked out of funds, or help a single mom who’s in a family shelter, this is a community where a police officer can really shine.”

APD has 27 commissioned officers — the chief, two captains, four sergeants, four corporals and 16 officers and detectives, Small said. That’s a ratio of roughly 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents.

The department has five office and records staff and two community service officers. It also has an auxiliary patrol force of about 60; they are non-sworn volunteers who conduct vacation house checks, traffic control, transport documents and call in suspicious activity they see while on patrol.

Officers receive anti-bias training, as well as training in de-escalation techniques and crisis intervention. During Small’s career at APD, the department earned accreditation four times from the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, a recognition that requires meeting more than 140 standards for policies and procedures.

In his retirement announcement, Small said he is most proud of the people he has hired and the people who make up the Anacortes Police Department.

“My greatest legacy is going to be the police department staff I leave behind who will continue to protect and serve the City of Anacortes,” he said. “Anacortes is a special place and it has been a constant blessing in my life to serve its citizens and work with an amazing group of police professionals.”

Small said he is thankful “for the honor and privilege of serving my entire law enforcement career in this great city.”

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