Big changes at the top for Mountlake Terrace police

There’s a new chief, and the city is losing a well-traveled 38-year veteran of the department.

Pete Caw (left) is the new police chief in Mountlake Terrace. He and Cmdr. Doug Hansen (right) have worked a combined 70 years for the department. Hansen retires this week. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Pete Caw (left) is the new police chief in Mountlake Terrace. He and Cmdr. Doug Hansen (right) have worked a combined 70 years for the department. Hansen retires this week. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — The snapshots above Cmdr. Doug Hansen’s desk look like prints from a travel magazine.

Machu Picchu. The Taj Majal. The Great Wall of China.

It takes five minutes for him to name off 54 places he’s been.

The Sydney Opera House. The Sagrada Família. Ruins of Pompeii. Jerusalem. Rome. Everest. Peaks in New Zealand. Atolls in the Pacific.

Yet the place Hansen has served for 38 years, Mountlake Terrace, is right next door to his hometown, Esperance. He’s set to retire from the police department this week.

It’s been a busy spring for the top brass in the city of 25,000.

A new police chief, Pete Caw, was sworn in to lead the city’s 29 officers. Caw, an internal hire, has served as a patrol officer, sergeant, detective, commander, assistant chief and deputy chief since joining the department three decades ago.

Combined, he and Hansen have served the city for 70 years.

Their careers have overlapped in a strange way.

Both were promoted to sergeant, weeks apart.

Both preferred patrolling on the night shift.

So for most of their time, they were assigned opposite schedules, and they hardly saw each other. Caw estimated they worked maybe a half-dozen calls together.

Hello, Chief Caw

Caw grew up a ferry ride and a short drive away in a Navy family in Bremerton. He wrote features for the Port Orchard Independent weekly newspaper in the 1970s. Coverage of parades, pageants and obituaries left him unsure if journalism was a fit for him. He looked for a field with better pay and job security.

For a year in his 20s, he served as a prison guard in Walla Walla. It was a rough-and-tumble era when the penitentiary was known as the Concrete Mama, a title it shared with a classic work of journalism chronicling life behind bars there in 1978.

Caw transferred to the prison in Shelton. He only knew Snohomish County as a place where he’d pick up and drop off inmates once a week. He was hired as a police officer in Terrace in 1987, when he was 36. His field training officer was nine years younger.

Around the time of his first promotion, then-Chief John Turner told him that patrol sergeant would be the best job he’d ever have, and he might think twice about climbing any higher, Caw recalled.

“When I got those stripes on my arm, that was the job I was going to keep forever,” he said. “It’s just not the way things worked out.”

Mountlake Terrace Cmdr. Doug Hansen (center) and Chief Pete Caw (center right). (Mountlake Terrace Police Department)

Mountlake Terrace Cmdr. Doug Hansen (center) and Chief Pete Caw (center right). (Mountlake Terrace Police Department)

Today, Caw sees Turner’s leadership as a big influence on him.

“He left you alone if you were doing a good job,” he said. “And if you weren’t doing your job, he was all over you. After a few trials and tribulations with John, you figured out that doing your job was probably the best route.”

Mountlake Terrace police became the first in the state to notify the public about a sex offender moving to a community, in July 1989. A young man had been convicted of two sex offenses and a burglary. He also wrote notes with specific plans to abduct and molest kids. In that era, police were given notice when sex offenders were moving in. But it would be another five years before federal law made it widespread practice to tell the public at large. It was a controversial move by the chief. Turner faced criticism that he was trampling civil liberties.

“Nobody had ever done that before, and he went ahead and did it,” Caw recalled. “It’s commonplace now, you see it all the time. But it was a big deal that year.”

As the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Turner’s public announcement triggered an avalanche of phone calls to the police station — for two hours, the calls came every 15 to 20 seconds. City residents began keeping their children indoors. The school district bought new fencing.”

Many of those callers were frustrated that police didn’t release more details.

Looking back, Caw says it was right to let the public know.

“The whole idea is to protect the public and protect the victim,” Caw said. “That’s not a difficult decision to make, I don’t think.”

The new chief does not plan to hire a second-in-command deputy chief. He expects to use the $100,000-plus in savings on other resources, though exactly where those funds will go remains to be seen.

Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Pete Caw (left) and Cmdr. Doug Hansen. (Mountlake Terrace Police Department)

Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Pete Caw (left) and Cmdr. Doug Hansen. (Mountlake Terrace Police Department)

“I’m not the kind of leader that just makes decisions and says: ‘This is the way we’re doing it.’ I’m the opposite of that,” Caw said. “We need to get around the table and ask for ideas and kind of come to consensus. … I’m not a person that thinks I’ve got all the answers, because I don’t.”

Caw plans to stick around at least three years. He doesn’t have major changes in mind, but he sees the opioid epidemic as a top priority. Officers have exchanged information with an embedded social worker in the neighboring cities of Edmonds and Lynnwood, and the chief said it’s possible Mountlake Terrace could start a similar program.

“We haven’t made that commitment yet,” Caw said, “but we’re certainly looking at it.”

Another emphasis will be mentoring the next generation of police in Terrace as baby boomers hit retirement. The city stands to lose institutional knowledge from its longest-serving officers.

Goodbye, Cmdr. Hansen

In the early 1980s, Hansen had long hair and a beard from a hunting trip, when he heard the police department was hiring. He showed up to the station and asked the chief how to apply. The chief told him to get a haircut. So he did. He came back early the next morning with his paperwork.

He started as a modestly paid animal control officer.

In the ’90s, he taught kids in the D.A.R.E. program.

He also served as the commander of the state police academy for 3½ years.

Cmdr. Doug Hansen taught D.A.R.E. classes at local schools in the 1990s. He’s retiring this week after 38 years with Mountlake Terrace police. (Mountlake Terrace Police Department)

Cmdr. Doug Hansen taught D.A.R.E. classes at local schools in the 1990s. He’s retiring this week after 38 years with Mountlake Terrace police. (Mountlake Terrace Police Department)

He’s been the part-time chief of Woodway police since 2000. He will remain in that role.

Thirty-eight years is a long career for a police officer. In that time, Hansen has depended on the support of his wife and family.

“You’re seeing people at their worst possible moments,” he said. “You have to be able to box up some of that and not let it impact your life on a permanent basis, and it takes a good person to be the sounding board when you come home frustrated or scared out of your mind. … Every once in a while I still have nightmares about some of the situations I’ve been in.”

Outside of his job, the far-flung travels have informed his work.

“Like all experiences, it makes you more understanding of people, and it allows them to see you in a different light,” he said.

He’s flown 11 times to China to coach basketball. On one of the first trips, he told his guide he was a cop.

“She was very fearful, because it means something very different over there,” Hansen said. “Once we got communicating, she realized that I wasn’t some monster that was taking people to jail without a cause. That not only opens doors for them, but for me, too. … It allows me to understand a little bit, when I’m here, the fact that some people may have a little hesitancy dealing with us, because of their experience in their own country.”

He’s made friends on repeat visits to New Zealand, and once he was able to hitch a ride on a supply mission to Antarctica. He didn’t get to do much more than set foot on the ice.

It was a subscription to National Geographic, as a kid, that made him want to see as much of the planet as possible. He’s still a subscriber.

You don’t have to do much detective work to figure out his post-retirement plans.

First, he’s got plane tickets for six weeks in Greece.

Soon after that he intends to cross Norway and Finland off his list.

And he’s hardly set foot in Africa.

And he’d like to get back to Antarctica, too, to explore a little more.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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