Police chief retires after 39-year career

March 18, 2014

By Peter Clark

By Greg Farrar Paul Ayers, Issaquah’s police chief for the last seven years, pauses in his office for a portrait.

By Greg Farrar
Paul Ayers, Issaquah’s police chief for the last seven years, pauses in his office for a portrait.

After 39 years in law enforcement — seven in Issaquah — Chief Paul Ayers is ready to take it easy.

Though it started out as a ride-along after serving his tours of duty in Vietnam, police work became a decorated career for Ayers almost four decades ago. He will serve his last day April 15.

“Literally, my first day riding along was a huge eye-opener for me,” Ayers said. “What people know about law enforcement is what they read in the paper and what they see on TV. When you’re at street level and see those things happen, it really makes you realize this job is a lot more.”

He joined the police department in Moscow, Idaho, before moving onto Lewiston, Idaho, where he spent 30 years. That time allowed him plenty of opportunity to explore the various positions in a department.

“I did all of them,” he said, listing patrol officer, school resource officer, sergeant, major collisions team, SWAT team, corporal, detective, captain and chief.

He was on the verge of retirement seven years ago, when he went looking for another opportunity and landed in Issaquah.

“I’ve found it to be a great environment,” Ayers said about working with the city. “The department has been very receptive from day one.”

Issaquah has provided different challenges than Lewiston. Ayers said Issaquah residents feel more secure, which he sees as a good thing, but that it leads to more preventable crimes like car break-ins.

For all the positive aspects he described about his time in Issaquah, difficulties existed as well.

“The biggest challenge here has been the budget,” he said of strains on the department following the 2008 recession. “The City Council supported the police department in that we didn’t have to lose any officers. Still, last year was the first year we hired an officer since 2004.”

Additionally, he said a 2011 shootout on Clark Elementary School grounds was trying for the whole city. Police had to kill Ronald Ficker, 51, after he walked downtown streets, firing at citizens and police.

“That was a tragic element for our community,” Ayers said. “For any community, it’s a very traumatic experience. That just weighs heavily on a department and a city.”

Many in the city lamented Ayers’ departure.

“I’m really sad,” executive assistant Theresa Schaap said. “He’s got to be one of the best human beings I’ve ever met.”

With 13 years experience in the department, Ayers was the third chief with which Schaap had worked.

“He really leads by example,” she said. “He leads with integrity, and brought focus to the department. He left a really indelible impression here.”

Mayor Fred Butler had nothing but positive comments about Ayers’ time in the city.

“Chief Paul Ayers has done a superb job during the seven years he has been our chief,” he said. “He’s been a strong mentor and helped develop his subordinates to assist with community policing. He’s been instrumental in training a highly skilled police force.”

Looking into Issaquah’s future, Ayers highlighted the state of crime in the area and how the department should continue under new leadership.

“We have two major issues: narcotics and mental health,” he said. “When both of those issues happen, the first person to get involved is the police. Our only resource is the jail, which is a terrible resource for both of those.”

Above everything, he asked for council support as more people flock into the city.

“We’re still going to have growth,” Ayers said. “So, with that, my message to City Council has always been, we have to be able to provide the services, whatever that might mean.”

Ayers is going back to Idaho. He and his wife bought a house in Boise, close to where her family lives, and he looks forward to some down time.

“My whole career has been a great ride,” Ayers said. “I feel better now about taking it easy, but I may try to look for something down the road.”


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