LANGLEY — The new chief of police in Langley is intent on being an encouraging figure for both his force and the citizens he serves.
The City Council recently confirmed Don Lauer, who had been the interim head of the department for a year, as the Village by the Sea’s new chief, replacing David Marks.
Marks resigned in September after he’d been relieved of his duties following an investigation of alleged excessive use of force.
“It’s important that the department earn and regain the trust that we need to have with the community,” Lauer said.
He said trust is important regardless of the past and, to gain it, he will try to be as transparent as possible.
Lauer has been with the department just over three years and served as an officer in Granite Falls for seven years before coming to Whidbey.
“I really enjoy working in smaller communities,” he said. “You’re able to have more of a personal touch.”
That would include increased training for the officers, more community presence and involvement and a support system for his department and hopefully other first responders, he said.
His focus will be on providing opportunities for courses on leadership as well as how to handle situations in which mental health is a factor.
Mayor Tim Callison said he has a “strong level of trust” in his new chief.
“He had demonstrated a strong understanding of and ability to connect with citizens in a small town,” Callison said in an email. “As acting chief he demonstrated good personnel and financial management skills, which are necessary in small town government.”
Lauer’s favorite moments in his law enforcement career all related to him being able to support someone through a difficult period of their life. Lauer said he wants to be a positive influence, especially for young people.
“Any time we have a chance as a police officer to make a young person feel welcome, we’re making an impact,” he said.
He told the story of a girl at the high school who’d been experiencing some hardship. He’d been around through a lot of it, and he said he always tried to encourage her. One day, he saw the girl and her friends in a park and when he went to say hello, the girl told her friends, “This is a cool cop.”
“That’s fantastic,” Lauer said.
He knows not all interactions will be so positive in his line of work. The hardest part of the job has been when he’s there when a family experiences a loss. He’s also heartbroken every time a child is the victim of a crime, he said.
His department also assists the Island County Sheriff’s Office outside city limits, and all the officers and deputies have been through some “gruesome experiences.”
Lauer is a certified peer counselor, and he wants to encourage more people to get the certification. There’s more awareness recently about the impact that the line of work can have on mental health, and his goal is to create a network of support for first responders, he said.
“If I could say I got one thing done, if that’s it, then I would feel good about my time here,” he said.
Lauer entered law enforcement for his love of people. He went to a Bible college to go into the ministry. A few years after graduating, he joined the police academy. He was drawn to the diverse ways he could interact with and help people in the profession.
“As a police officer, you wear a lot of hats,” he said.
That drives his desire to increase training opportunities on topics such as sensory sensitivity for people with certain mental health problems.
There are two officers on his staff, with an opening for another.
To increase local involvement, Lauer said, he joined the Community Wellness Coalition and is encouraging his officers to join groups that match their passions.
“It’s not that we’re just policing the community,” he said, “but that we’re partners in the community.”
This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling paper of The Herald.