Behind the badge: Everett’s new police chief plans to stay the course

John DeRousse has served as an Everett cop for 25 years. He sat down with The Daily Herald to talk about his life and his new job.

New Everett Police Chief John DeRousse stands in front of the department’s north precinct Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

New Everett Police Chief John DeRousse stands in front of the department’s north precinct Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

EVERETT — Everett’s new police chief has held almost every position in his 25 years in the department.

But last month, John DeRousse stepped into the new role — and he’s not afraid to admit he’s still learning. The work never stops, he said.

While reserved, maybe even a bit camera shy, DeRousse spoke with a smile on his face about his new title. He’s not looking to make drastic changes to the department.

“There will be some changes, but we’re not grabbing the wheel and just spinning it,” he said. “We’re just going in the same direction, doing what we feel is good police work.”

DeRousse, 52, has served as an Everett police officer since 1998. Mayor Cassie Franklin appointed him to the top job Nov. 2, following Chief Dan Templeman’s retirement. Templeman was also a career Everett cop who served in the department for 30 years, nine of those as chief.

“In 1992, when I started, I would never have imagined our department going through a global pandemic, historic police reform and unimaginable tragedy within our own agency,” Templeman said at an October council meeting. “But most remarkable is that through it all, the members of the Everett Police Department have adapted to these challenges and stood tall and proud as we navigated these headwinds together.”

Templeman could not be reached for an interview.

DeRousse has been part of the department’s Child Abduction Reduction Team, the Community Outreach and Engagement Team and the Violent Crime Reduction Unit.

Like many cities, violent crime, drug addiction and police staffing are some of the most pressing issues facing the department in Everett. DeRousse sees each of these as problems that must be addressed by the entire community, not just the police.

“John knows this community, and our community knows and trusts him,” the mayor said last month. “… Leading by example and ensuring the Everett Police Department remains one of the best, if not the best, departments in the state.”

‘There is more to life’

Raised in an Army family, DeRousse split his childhood between Puyallup and West Germany.

“I remember seeing my dad in uniform, at times wearing a gun belt, and being in awe of him,” DeRousse said. “I wanted to serve my community in some way too, either in the military like my dad, or in some other capacity. Being a police officer made sense.”

After graduating from Washington State University, he began his career as a Whatcom County sheriff’s deputy in 1995.

Three years later, DeRousse moved to Snohomish County. Since then, he has served as an officer, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. DeRousse and his wife Carrie have raised their blended family in the Everett area.

In 2018, he was promoted to deputy chief of operations, alongside Jeraud Irving, who still serves as deputy chief of investigations and services. DeRousse’s replacement had not been selected as of Tuesday.

Much like his favorite fictional cop — New York police Capt. Frank Reagan, played by Tom Selleck in “Blue Bloods” — DeRousse believes balance between personal and professional worlds is a “good goal” for any law enforcement leader. As a father, he said, his role has evolved as his kids have grown up.

“I was very strict and worried about them more than I needed to,” DeRousse said. “Nowadays my children are all adults, so I’m building a new type of relationship with them. My relationship with them keeps me balanced as I recognize there is more to life than what we see during a police shift.”

Over the past month on social media, the department has been posting snippets of light icebreakers to “Get to Know Chief DeRousse.”

For example, his go-to karaoke song?

“Any song with no words. (I’m not a singer!)”

The Daily Herald posed some of the tougher questions, too, in a recent interview.

John DeRousse is sworn in as Everett police chief by Mayor Cassie Franklin on Nov. 1, 2023. (Everett Police Department)

John DeRousse is sworn in as Everett police chief by Mayor Cassie Franklin on Nov. 1, 2023. (Everett Police Department)

On violent crime

DeRousse wants to continue programs like gun buybacks to get illegal guns off the street. He also believes in programs to mentor youth who may be more prone to violence.

“We need to be doing things upstream as well, where we actively work on intervention programs with groups in our community,” DeRousse said. “That will help people that are living in a culture of violence. Sometimes families without good guidance and role models, providing them with other avenues for some of that good mentoring.”

He pointed to the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Bryan Tamayo at an Everett bus stop in September. Everett police arrested two suspects in the killing two days later.

“We did great police work, after the fact, to identify suspects and get suspects into custody,” DeRousse said. “And that was good. But we need to be doing things upstream as well.”

In recent years, DeRousse’s predecessor had spoken frequently about gun violence.

“As I always say, to individuals, you know, violent crime does not affect you until it does,” Templeman said in October. “And then when it does, it’s too late to really go back and try to address it.”

Everett police had taken 92 reports of “shots fired” by September this year. At the same point in 2019, there were 25 “shots fired” calls, Templeman said.

There were 12 murders reported in 2022, compared to four the previous year. Eleven of them were firearm-related. One of those was the killing of Everett officer Dan Rocha, the first Everett police officer to die in the line of duty in over 20 years.

The amount of gun crime is “very concerning to anybody that lives here,” DeRousse said. “And I live in this community as well. So it’s very concerning to me and my family.”

On community outreach

What keeps DeRousse up at night? Staffing.

The new chief believes a well staffed police department is crucial to solving Everett’s crime, drug and homelessness problems.

“When we entered into COVID, and then the murder of George Floyd, we saw a real rise in people that questioned the integrity of law enforcement and policing,” DeRousse said. “And that internally impacted us by seeing a much lower turnout for testing.”

In 2020, the department hired 14 sworn officers, officer Ora Hamel said. In 2023, that number rose to 24. But over 30 officer positions remained open as of this month.

DeRousse said the department has gotten more diverse since 2020, hiring more women and people of color.

“I think we need to have people on the department that look like the people in our community,” DeRousse said.

In 2023, the force gained 10 new officers identifying as Black, Indigenous or People of Color — double the amount of such hires from three years prior. The department also hired three women as sworn officers in 2023, compared to one in 2020.

The department has 224 positions for police officers and 39 for other staff. As of Tuesday, 191 officer positions and 35 non-officer positions were filled. Almost 82% of staff identified as white. Census data shows a little over 67% of the general population in Everett identifies as white.

Through outreach events, DeRousse wants to prioritize “breaking bread” with residents to rebuild trust with law enforcement, and potentially recruit, in the post-George Floyd era.

“Our leaders, including myself, have to be aware of those impacts and try and make systematic changes with the wellbeing of the entire community in mind,” DeRousse said. “That requires us to have relationships with the diverse people that live in Everett and leverage those relationships and their feedback, to learn how to best police them.”

On public drug use

This year, Franklin created two new “buffer zones” as a tool to push back against public drug use in Everett, in addition to one that already existed near Everett Station. Sitting or lying down in the zones is forbidden, as is giving out food, services or supplies without a permit.

In July, a new state law went into effect making it a misdemeanor to possess a controlled substance in public places, unless the drug was prescribed. Since then, Everett police have increased patrols in and near the buffers, also known as “no sit, no lie” zones.

Between July and August, Everett police booked 84 people into the Snohomish County Jail for investigation of public drug use. Another 13 were given citations, or a ticket, but were released.

“What we’re seeing is we’re getting very little, if any cooperation from the people that are out there regarding getting some type of social services or help related to their underlying drug addiction,” DeRousse said. “And that’s because these drugs are such gamechangers.”

In 2017, Snohomish County, saw 100 opioid overdose deaths. Last year, there were 215 — a spike largely driven by the rise of cheap and potent fentanyl.

DeRousse said it’s a balance, having empathy for those suffering from addiction, while also maintaining public safety.

“What we’re trying to do is change or influence behavior,” DeRousse said. “If there’s there’s no other way to influence behavior other than making an arrest and we believe this person is not going to take the warning, or heed the warning, or change what they’re doing today, that’s a violation of law. An officer has the authority and will make an arrest and book them in the jail what we hope is that some of the downstream impacts, through their public defender, through a a judge’s order, to get treatment.”

DeRousse praised Franklin’s creation of the Drug Crisis Task Force, a project in its “infancy stages,” meant to bring together law enforcement, government and the public to address drug addiction in Everett.

“People are seeing this in our communities, and it’s scaring people, DeRousse said. “It’s a whole community issue. And it’s going to take everybody including the police department to be part of it.”

Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.

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