Sargent Herb Crowe to Retire March 31

By Toby Cooper

Sounder Contributor

Even sitting down, Sergeant Herb Crowe fills the room like a big, friendly bear. Clad in 30 pounds of law enforcement gear – Kevlar “ballistic” vest, weapon, multiple ammunition magazines, Taser, handcuffs, various keys, radio, and more – Crowe percolates the universal potency of police work. But here on Orcas Island, this man is known best for his ready smile and perpetual good will.

Crowe is set to retire March 31. He looks back on nearly 25 years of service in a tranquil rural community where, as the old Cheers theme song goes, “everybody knows your name.” Too slow? Too boring for someone devoted to law enforcement?

“Don’t be fooled,” he says, adding, “This place is busy with all the same crimes and problems as anywhere else.” The Sounder sat down with Crowe for a shared moment of reflection and reminiscence. Uncovered was a story of passion and dedication, humor, perseverance, maybe a little luck, and a lot of honest, hard work.

Sounder: What caused you to seek a career in law enforcement?

Crowe: “After high school (Orcas HS class of 1982), I took a job managing a Tacoma retail store, which experienced a break-in. When the Tacoma PD responded, I was surprised to find them to be highly approachable. Like most folks, my thoughts about police officers were confined to being in ‘trouble,’ but these guys were friendly and loaded with interesting gear. “I told them I was potentially interested in law enforcement, but feared I would be ‘disqualified’ because I had once stolen a candy bar as a child. They laughed so hard. It changed my outlook and encouraged me to ‘give it a shot.’”

Sounder: Did you transition directly into police work?

Crowe: “My father was career Air Force, then at McChord AFB. Being a military brat and still under 21, I talked to them about military law enforcement. But they tried to recruit me for security work – guarding planes and such – and I decided against that. Ultimately, I joined the [nearby] Bremerton PD as a ‘Reserve Officer,’ first passing through their exams, agility tests, and training academy. “Reserve officers do not get paid, so I continued my business career and worked the ‘graveyard shift’ at Bremerton. Frankly, I loved it to death.”

Sounder: When did it become full-time?

Crowe: “The retail store owners in Tacoma decided to open a new store in Wenatchee and asked me to run it. Since I had the Reserve Officer commission with Bremerton, I was able to get on with the department in Wenatchee and continued this [dual] lifestyle for another five years. “I became Commander of the Reserve Unit. We had many divisions, even our own SWAT team. I built up thousands of hours and diversity of experience. “I ultimately entered the Police Academy in Burien. It was longer, more intense. You become certified by the State of Washington. You can take that commission and go anywhere.”

Sounder: Did you have your eyes on returning to Orcas?

Crowe: “No! I was not interested. I met my wife, Margie, the love of my life, in connection with my business management work. We were happy in Wenatchee. We had two children and a full life. But my mom here on Orcas became ill, and I was needed here. “I hired on with the Sheriff’s office here, first as a Reserve Officer in 1998 and then full time in 1999. At first, I was not sure about island life. We are such a small force, the work load per officer is higher.”

Sounder: Is there a difference in your work between locals and tourists?

Crowe: “Believe it or not, it’s the locals that generate all the police calls. The tourists generally don’t bring problems with them. We receive about 3,000 calls per year, all year round.”

Sounder: In America today, law enforcement finds itself on the raw edge of political and cultural divides. True statement?

Crowe: “In this community, we have been very blessed. Our relationship with the community has always been strong. During all the press coverage on “Defund the Police,” we never experienced any of that. Quite the opposite. We had community members saying, ‘We want more of you.’ It comes from us being part of this community.”

Sounder: Given the close-knit community, how do you navigate a situation when you are confronted by criminal activity?

Crowe: “On a practical level, we have knowledge of who the ‘bad guys’ are in the community. In some cases, we have seen patterns as they grow up. That knowledge helps us navigate through investigations or interviews. It is still a first-name basis, though, which makes police work easier.”

Sounder: Have you ever fired your weapon during Orcas duty?

Crowe: “Drawn it, yes, but never fired in 25 years.”

Sounder: Favorite story?

Crowe: “I was working a night shift with a partner, doing a late ‘bar check’ as part of DUI work. There was a man in the bar who was intoxicated and had been cut off. We spoke to him and he promised us he could – and would — walk home. But, sure enough, he goes out and gets in his Mustang convertible and starts driving off. I engaged him in a traffic stop on Prune Alley, but he pulled off out of sight. I made contact with him, my lights going. He was cooperative as we walked over to the Fire Station to do a field sobriety test. So, I demonstrate the familiar ‘walk and turn’ test in front of the bay doors. He walks the line perfectly, and then jumps up and does this, like, plié ballet maneuver and lands on one foot. Then he walks back down the line. We were floored. I asked him, ‘Is that how I demonstrated the turn for you?’ He says, ‘No, but I took dance for years and years, and I wanted to show you what I could do.’ We couldn’t make ourselves finish the test, but we still had to arrest him for DUI.”

Once retired, Crowe plans to work armed security jobs in the Seattle area. He may drive a school bus.

The Fire Station will host an open community celebration on Friday, March 31 , starting at noon.

Congratulations, Sergeant Herb Crowe! A grateful community will miss you.