Former K-9 officer, promoted to Lynnwood chief, has to-do list to tackle

Cole Langdon has been at the department for 27 years. He replaces Jim Nelson, a Lynnwood officer for three decades.

Cole Langdon (Lynnwood Police Department)
Cole Langdon (Photo provided by the Lynnwood Police Department)

Cole Langdon (Lynnwood Police Department) Cole Langdon (Photo provided by the Lynnwood Police Department)

LYNNWOOD — If not for a herniated disc at a spring football practice, Cole Langdon’s career path might have looked a little different.

Langdon, who grew up in Mountlake Terrace, was an offensive lineman at the University of Washington, but injured his back as a freshman during a spring practice. It effectively ended his football career, but set him off on another route.

At 19 years old, he applied for the cadet program at the Lynnwood Police Department. He’s been there ever since.

He took his position Monday as chief of Lynnwood police, where he’ll lead the city’s 55 officers. Langdon has served various positions since joining the department 27 years ago.

He replaced Jim Nelson, who had served as chief since August 2020.

Jim Nelson (City of Lynnwood)
Jim Nelson (Photo provided by the City of Lynnwood)

Jim Nelson (City of Lynnwood) Jim Nelson (Photo provided by the City of Lynnwood)

The Lynnwood City Council confirmed Langdon’s hiring during a hearing last week. The vote passed with six in favor and council member Josh Binda abstaining. Council members Jim Smith and Shirley Sutton shared anecdotes about Langdon’s impact on the community since he joined the force.

Smith said Langdon’s heart is in the city, and he even remembers him when he was a 19-year-old cadet, delivering newspapers to his house.

Council members George Hurst and Binda shared concerns about the internal hiring process. Binda said that he was confident in Langdon’s qualifications and ability to serve as chief, but believed other candidates should have been considered. According to Lynnwood municipal code, at least three candidates are required for the confirmation process, but only two within the department applied, according to city documents.

The new chief steps in amid construction of a new Community Justice Center, a sprawling, 12,750-square-foot facility with 84 beds and a mental health wing. The project was delayed because of public outrage when Tirhas Tesfatsion took her own life while incarcerated in the city jail.

As of this year, the Lynnwood police chief makes around $240,000 annually, according to city records.

Goodbye, after 30 years

Thirty years after joining the Lynnwood police department, Jim Nelson spent his last day in gratitude, mostly for the people that he’s met along the way.

“I had a couple goals when I started the job, and one of them was to leave with a smile on my face … and I’ve been successful in that,” Nelson said.

Nelson grew up in Minnesota, but spent his teenage years in Alaska. He was passionate about flying airplanes, and at 18, he spent a summer spotting fish over the waters of Bristol Bay.

He would sit in the backseat of a Cessna seaplane, observing sockeye salmon activity for fishing boats. He would sometimes sleep inside the cockpit of the plane as it rested on the Alaska waters.

“It was an unusual experience, being up in an uncontrolled airspace in a wild part of the world, with caribou running across the tundra,” Nelson said. “It was unlike anything I’ve done prior to that, or since.”

Jim Nelson in the early 2000s. (Photo provided by the Lynnwood Police Department)

Jim Nelson in the early 2000s. (Photo provided by the Lynnwood Police Department)

He initially came to Washington in the 1980s to attend a flying program at Everett Community College, but the classes were full. So he went a different route. After taking a few criminal justice classes, he took an interest in law enforcement.

Nelson joined the Marines, and when he returned to Washington, he applied to be a Lynnwood police officer. After getting the job, he never left.

At the time Nelson applied, it was a highly competitive position, with nearly 900 people at the police tests. Nelson said the current environment is “very different,” with only 20 to 30 people applying at a time to be Lynnwood police officers.

Before becoming chief, Nelson worked in the narcotics division and as commander of the municipal jail.

Nelson worked long hours while undercover in narcotics. During that time, he coached his son’s Little League team, and had to tell the other parents not to approach him if they saw him on the street, so they wouldn’t blow his cover.

“You’d be buying drugs from people who were armed, there was a lot of money at play,” Nelson said. “It’s dangerous work. My family had to endure that for six years.”

Inside the former Lynnwood jail, Nelson had his “eyes opened.” Being able to see the perspective of the frequently incarcerated made him feel closer to the community and colored the rest of his experience in law enforcement.

“I learned a lot about the way the system works from their aspect,” he said. “You get that moment of clarity from people in jail. Maybe they’re clean for the first time from drugs in a long time, where they are more willing to talk to you about things.”

He’s beginning another career with Public Safety Testing — a firm that helps law enforcement with the testing and recruitment process.

Nelson has three kids. The oldest was born the first year he was hired. Looking beyond, he wants to sail the waters off the coast of Alaska.

“I want to get back up there and share that with my wife,” Nelson said. “That’s the main thing I’m looking forward to.”

Welcome, Chief Langdon

After his career-ending injury, the newly appointed chief was searching for a sense of purpose. Langdon found it as a police officer.

“I’ve always held the police in high regard, but I had more of an interest in federal law enforcement,” he said. “But when I saw how much more interaction with the community there is with local law enforcement, I fell in love with it.”

Langdon spent 11 years with the K-9 unit, where he worked with two dogs — Tanner and Buddy. Tanner had to retire early, but Langdon adopted him soon after.

“K-9 is not something you want to force on somebody,” Langdon said. “I love dogs. The thing that drew me to K-9 was the dynamic of needing to practice and train to build this strong relationship with this really cool animal.”

Cole Langdon with his police dog Tanner in 2007. (Photo provided by the Lynnwood Police Department)

Cole Langdon with his police dog Tanner in 2007. (Photo provided by the Lynnwood Police Department)

He was eventually promoted to sergeant, where he supervised patrol squads.

Langdon served as part of the “Cops and Clergy” program, where police and faith leaders around the community held quarterly talks. He has helped to oversee the department’s experimentation with different de-escalation tactics. In April, the department debuted the StarChase program, an air canister attached to police vehicles that shoots a GPS tracking device at fleeing cars, potentially making police pursuits safer.

“De-escalation is nothing new to us, it’s good police work is what it is,” Langdon said. “Allowing things to calm down, slowing things down, has always been good police tactics.”

Langdon said he also plans to implement new “virtual reality based scenario training” within the department. The technology consists of virtual goggles and a camera system that can demonstrate different scenarios, such as a person with a weapon, and officers can practice different ways to solve the situation.

“Good police work is keeping the community safe,” Langdon said. “Improving the quality of life and their perception of safety — the key there is the partnership with the community.”

Another emphasis for the department will be managing the mental health of police officers and the daily anxieties that come with the job.

“There are tough aspects of the job, it’s difficult work, but if it was easy it would get boring pretty quick,” Langdon said. “I haven’t been bored a day in my life here.”

Jonathan Tall: 425-339-3486; jonathan.tall@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @EDHJonTall.

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