The Camas Police Department is marking the end of an era — and the beginning of a new one — this month with the retirement of longtime Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey and the onboarding of the department’s new chief, Tina M. Jones.
For Lackey, a lifelong Camas-Washougal resident who graduated from Washougal High School in 1978, and worked for The Columbian newspaper’s circulation department for a decade before joining the Camas police force as an officer in 1990, retirement has opened up a world of traveling. He and his wife, Carol, recently returned from a monthlong trip to Italy where they soaked up the culture in Umbria and took wine tours through Tuscany.
Despite the allure of retirement, saying goodbye to law enforcement, a career that first called to Lackey when he was still a Washougal High student, is bittersweet.
“I remember when a state trooper came to visit our high school. He was this big, 6-foot-7 guy in a Smokey Bear hat,” Lackey said, laughing. That visit piqued Lackey’s interest in law enforcement, and set him on a path that would include more than three decades with the Camas Police Department, including more than 15 years as the department’s chief.
In his many years with the Camas Police Department, Lackey has tried to approach policing as a way to promote safety, prevent crime and do good for his community. The chief could often be found promoting safety initiatives such as giving away free bike helmets to children he and his officers saw riding bikes, scooters and skateboards around town; offering a bowl filled with free gun locks at the entrance to the police department; and giving away bright yellow, bee-shaped reflectors to children to help them be more visible to drivers at night.
Lackey also helped oversee a period of safety in Camas that put the small city on the map as one of the safest communities west of the Rockies.
Lackey credits that to a number of factors, including the work of his 30 police officers but also to the fact that Camasonians tend to build relationships with their neighbors and look out for one another.
“There is that sense of small-town community here,” Lackey said.
Of course, serving in law enforcement for more than three decades came with its fair share of traumatic experiences, too. Lackey has seen the worst of humanity during his career, and said he is well aware of how tough it can be for police officers and other first responders who witness death, pain and suffering.
Jones, the incoming police chief, said she was part of the Portland Police Bureau’s peer-support program for 15 years, and believes officers and other first responders exposed to traumatic situations must prioritize taking care of their own mental health.
For Jones, that means spending time with her husband, Matt, and their dogs; being out in nature; fishing; practicing Pilates; and working on creative pursuits such as cross-stitching and quilting.
“Having empathy and taking care of yourself are important” parts of policing, Jones said.
Finding healthier ways to work through on-the-job trauma isn’t the only way policing has changed since Lackey joined the force as an officer nearly 33 years ago.
Back then, he said, Camas was a small town dominated by the paper mill and the police department was tiny, with typically only one officer on duty during the night and swing shifts. And, of course, the drug laws were vastly different.
“Back then, even having a small amount of (marijuana) was illegal,” Lackey said.
Some of the calls for police service, however, haven’t changed too much over the past 30 years.
Lackey said many of the calls for police assistance in Camas have always tended to involve domestic disturbances — an area in which Jones, the incoming police chief, has a great deal of experience, having worked domestic violence cases for three years during her 21-year tenure with the Portland Police Bureau.
Preventing domestic violence takes more than just good policing, Jones said.
“Having good partnerships is key,” Jones said, adding that she believes preventing domestic violence means helping domestic violence survivors not just navigate the legal system but also find resources and advocates that can help them find safe — often anonymous — shelter and other services they’ll need to keep themselves and their children safe from an abusive spouse or romantic partner.
Jones, who has lived in Clark County for the past two decades, was sworn in to her new position at the Camas City Council’s July 3 meeting and said she is “deeply honored to be joining this tremendous team and getting to know all the people who live and work here.”
Jones also commented on the fact that Camas was recently named the safest suburb west of the Rocky Mountains.
“That’s a huge accomplishment,” she said. “And it wasn’t done in a vacuum. It was due in large part to a supportive council, mayor and community members who participate and care deeply for our public service agencies.”