SULTAN — At his old job, Craig Hess would listen from inside the stairwells of the public housing projects in Brooklyn. The stairwells were where people invariably ran from him and other New York City police officers.
In 2005, Hess was moving up at the New York Police Department and racking up the arrests required to advance his career. He also was missing important moments with his wife and their four kids. He made a decision. It was time for a change.
So he left a police department with 78 precincts and traveled across the country to join a department with three: the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. His family moved to the Everett area, and experienced plenty of culture shock. He likes to refer to Brooklyn as “Everett times 50.”
There aren’t so many stairwells on his new beat at Sultan High School.
Since January 2015, Hess has been assigned to the Sultan School District as a school resource officer. In any given day, he might be asked to counsel an 18-year-old about marijuana or a 4-year-old who’s still learning to use the restroom.
“Here it’s very easy-going,” Hess said. “There it’s very military. You salute your sergeant. You salute your flag. You don’t have personal conversations with your boss. He doesn’t care.”
In Brooklyn, “guns, money and drugs are the three main food groups,” he said.
Before applying at Snohomish County, he’d asked his bosses in New York for a new assignment. His commanding officer looked at the form he’d filled out and said, “You want to throw that in the garbage or should I?”
At Sultan High School, the staff teases Hess by sneaking Seahawks memorabilia onto the Christmas tree in his office that he decked out with symbols of his Irish heritage and love of the New York Giants.
Hess, 49, grew up Irish Catholic on Staten Island and Long Island, where he raised his own family. He earned a teaching degree and worked in insurance before he became a firefighter and then a police officer.
His oldest child, 27, is a New York City firefighter and the youngest, 17, attends a local high school.
In New York, there was a guard posted at the entrance to every school. On his first day at Sultan High School, Hess saw a group of kids who seemed to be wandering into the woods. He inquired and was told they were going to an outdoor classroom with a garden. The students here learn “a lot of nature stuff,” he said.
He still laughs about one of the first trips his family took to a local Safeway. His kids were taken aback when a stranger started chatting with them in line.
At the sheriff’s office, Hess first was assigned to south county, the busiest precinct. That was a lot more territory than at his old job, when he had one square mile. Sultan still seems “almost like a Norman Rockwell painting,” he said.
Some people he encountered had difficulty understanding his accent, which has softened with time. Once a woman called his sergeant and asked how long Hess had been in the U.S.
The 911 dispatchers and fellow deputies also ribbed him over his lingo. He called arrests “collars” and ambulances “buses.” They’d ask him, “Why do you need a bus?”
In 2001, Hess still was in the police officer academy in New York, in a class of 2,000, when terrorists attacked Manhattan. He worked for weeks at Ground Zero.
When Hess was applying with Snohomish County, Ty Trenary, who now is the sheriff but was then a sergeant, came to New York for a ride-along. Hess was taking Trenary around when the muffler fell off his squad car. His future sheriff had to wait while Hess wired the muffler back on.
Years later, he’s glad he had the chance to coach his kids’ lacrosse teams. He’s now coaching Jackson High School boys lacrosse, and his wife coaches a girls team.
His job at the high school isn’t so much about enforcement as mentoring, he said. He tries to reach kids before their bad decisions start affecting their futures.
When dealing with the teenagers gets to be too much, Hess goes to Sultan Elementary, where he’s usually greeted with 10 minutes of high-fives.
Success, he has learned, isn’t measured by collars anymore.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; email@example.com.