Next chief sees potential in La Center

Small town will be new environment for Arizona man

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Marc Denney is going from the sun-baked desert of Arizona to the rain-soaked forest of Southwest Washington. He's giving up border patrols and drug busts for the small-town flavor of one of Clark County's safest communities.

But for La Center's new police chief, the 180-degree shift in scenery and culture won't be daunting, he says. The nuts and bolts of law enforcement will remain the same, even if it's in a sleepy city of fewer than 3,000 people.

"It sounds like it will be a great community," Denney said in a phone interview from his home in Arizona. "I want to build a positive team there."

Denney, 45, comes from the Cochise County, Ariz., Sheriff's Office, where he worked as the patrol commander. He's a graduate of Wayland Baptist University and participated in the 248th session of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., in 2012.

In Arizona, Denney managed small teams. He was instrumental in organizing an interagency narcotics task force and was a member of the six-person border patrol team for Cochise County, which shares an 83-mile border with Mexico.

That line of work comes with high risks.

Denney assisted the FBI last October after an apparent ambush near the U.S.-Mexico border left one border agent dead and another seriously injured.

He's also worked as a SWAT commander.

La Center Mayor Jim Irish said Denney impressed the city's hiring committee with his "dynamic personality."

And although some have suggested that maybe Denney could get bored in La Center, Irish said he didn't think that would happen.

"I don't think he'll get bored," Irish said. "We're a growing community, and any time you have a growing community, you're susceptible to growing pains."

Still, police work in La Center promises to be a different beast for Denney.

He'll take the reins of the La Center Police Department in late February or early March, replacing interim Police Chief Erin Nolan, who has led the police department since last September when long-time Police Chief Tim Hopkin stepped down.

Hopkin retired from the department in August following a career spanning four decades, 27 years of which were spent in La Center.

However, the end of Hopkin's tenure was marred by an internal performance audit, released shortly before his retirement, which found that many of La Center's police officers felt there was a lack of leadership among the department's top brass. Officers quoted in the report said that despite their misgivings about how the department was run, they liked Hopkin on a personal level.

Denney said he'd take the audit's findings into consideration in moving forward with the police department.

"It was important enough for them to speak, so obviously there were some issues," Denney said. "They need to know what the expectations are."

He said discussions with Nolan have been productive. He's briefly met four officers with the La Center Police Department.

Denney was one of 50 applicants for La Center's top cop position and city officials say they look forward to his first day on the job. Irish even has a bit advice for Denney, as he makes his move: Don't rust.

But even if it drizzles a bit from time to time, as it's known to do in the Pacific Northwest, all the better, Denney says. It might allow him to get out and fish.

"I wanted to go someplace where there was water," he said.


Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.