Retired deputy shifts his focus to photography

ARLINGTON — As a deputy sheriff, Jake Funston spent his career tracking the bad moments.

Now he’s trying to capture the good ones.

Funston, 57, picked up photography to stay busy after an on-duty injury forced him to retire last summer.

“I’m not looking for criminals. I’m not looking for victims or witnesses,” he said. “I’m looking to take pictures.”

He patrols the waterfronts and back roads he came to know so well as a cop, leveling his lens on seagulls and snails, airplanes and American flags, barrel races and boat launches.

“It’s my escape,” Funston said of his new hobby. “Without it, I’d probably go crazy.”

He begins each day by taking his wife, Terri, to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, where she works in the evidence department. The two met there in 2005 and married a year later. After seeing Terri off, Funston hits the road with his camera. Tagging along in the back of his neon orange Jeep Wrangler are Taz and Bella, a lively pair of rescue dogs.

“Most of the time, we don’t know where we’re going,” Funston said. “We just get coffee and start driving.”

They go to air shows and rodeos, up mountain ranges and down to ocean shores. On weekends they reach Darrington, Bellingham, Diablo Lake and SeaTac.

Funston grew up in Sierra Madre, a small city in southern California. His first hands-on experience with police work came at age 15, when he went on a ride-along with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“The first call we went on was a bank robbery,” Funston recalled. “We were doing over 100 miles an hour going down the freeway. We started getting close and he goes, ‘Boy, get on the floor.’ ”

The perps had fled by the time they got to the bank, but Funston was hooked. He graduated from high school early and shipped off to the Marines, where he was a military police officer.

A bad fall forced him to retire from the Marines in 1987. Doctors diagnosed the injury, an ankle tear, as severe, predicting he’d have difficulty walking in the future. But six months later, Funston, fully rehabilitated, joined the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 1999, he followed a fellow cop to Washington, settling in Arlington and joining the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

The call that ended his 28-year police career came in December 2012. A suspicious vehicle was reported near Ebey Slough. Funston headed to the scene in an unmarked car.

“When I walked up, the fire department was already there,” he said. “I parked behind them, and I could see a vehicle sitting in the middle of the street.”

Firefighters told him that a male driver was sitting with a female passenger on his lap, the woman leaning on the center console. Funston approached the car.

“I couldn’t see inside,” he recalled. “I knocked on the window and got close to it. All of a sudden I see the guy turn and look at me. He takes his foot off the brake, hits the gas pedal.”

As Funston turned to draw his pistol, the car fishtailed out and clipped his knee, shifting several vertebrae in his spine.

“They had to put a plate in my back, and screws, and they replaced the whole knee when they did that,” he said. “The surgeon said, ‘I’m not going to let you go back.’ ”

He retired on June 30, 2013.

“I was brokenhearted,” he said. “Depressed, in a sense, at what I was leaving behind: the people that I knew, the people that I worked with.”

Terri Funston was relieved that her husband was out of harm’s way, but worried about what he would do next.

“I knew he wasn’t ready to retire,” she said. “He needed a hobby because he was really, really bored. He was tired of sitting at home with nothing to do.”

She suggested he buy a good camera and learn photography. Funston was far from tech-savvy, but he took his wife’s advice and got a Nikon D3200. His sister in California helped him with the technical stuff over the phone.

“Then I just went out and took picture after picture ‘til I got it right,” Funston said.

Photography has led Funston to meet all sorts of new people. One evening at the beach, he photographed a woman playing with her dog and later gave her a disc with the pictures on it.

Another time, he noticed a wooden frog in the window of an old barn while stopping at an intersection. He pulled over and took pictures of the moss-covered carving, then framed an 8-by-10 print and delivered it to the people who lived on the property.

“I said, ‘Hey, you don’t know me. I took this picture of your frog and I think it’s really cool. I just wanted you to have it,’ ” Funston said. “They turned out to be the nicest people. They showed me all the birds in the back.”

Since then he’s made prints for about a dozen other strangers.

He also shares his work online, posting albums to his Facebook page and contributing to the reader photo sections of news websites, including The Herald’s (look for photos by “Jake” at www.heraldnet.com/yourphotos). Photos of a treetop scuffle between an eagle and a hawk were posted on the Facebook pages of two local news stations, garnering more than 2,700 likes and 1,100 shares.

While Funston enjoys the relationships and recognition that come with photography, he says the main purpose of his new hobby is simply to keep his mind off everything else, especially the leg and back pain that still pesters him throughout the day.

“It’s like when I go out and start taking pictures, I’m in a different world. I’m in my own world,” he said. “I’m looking for something completely different than what I’ve ever looked for before. It gets my mind off everything else and puts me in a better place.”

He admits his ears still perk up when he hears sirens, but he’s learning to ignore them and go about his day.

“I know I’ll never be a cop again,” he said. “It’s getting easier every day.”

Sometimes on the weekends, when he’s awoken as early as 3 a.m. by a throbbing back, Funston whistles for the dogs and heads out to capture the sunrise, which he says is one of his favorite things to photograph.

“You can’t beat the colors coming out of it, the feeling of everything,” he said. “It’s a whole new day. Whatever happened yesterday is gone. Now it’s today.”

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