Interview with Skagit County Sheriff Rick Grimstead: 36-year Veteran State Trooper and Sheriff Provides Career Overview and Tips on How to Become a Successful Law Enforcement Officer

Sheriff Rick GrimsteadYou have been Skagit County Sheriff since 2003.  How did your career path lead to law enforcement and how has your career evolved?

My father was in law enforcement where he retired as Captain in the Washington State Patrol and so I was exposed to law enforcement growing up. I attended and graduated from Washington State University in 1967 with a degree in History and Physical Education with the intention to become a teacher. But then I went into active military service in Vietnam where I flew the CH-46 helicopter on 600+ combat missions. I was shot down several times but fortunately never injured. I spent six years in the Marines as a pilot and then remained in the reserves thereafter until I retired as Lt. Colonel. After my active military stint, I returned to Washington, but then considered a career in law enforcement. I both applied to the FBI and also became a cadet in the Washington State Troopers in 1973. I knew I would have to move around in the FBI and so by the time I got a response from them, my wife and I decided to remain in Washington. I entered the State Trooper Academy (the step after being a cadet). I was commissioned as a State Trooper in December 1974, and then was promoted to Sergeant in 1989. As Sergeant you oversee a detachment of 6-12 State Troopers. Overall, I spent 28 years in the State Patrol and retired in 2001 with most of time in Oak Harbor following a stint in Tacoma. When I retired, several people suggested that I run for Skagit County Sheriff. I was elected in 2002 and started as Sheriff in 2003 for two terms. I am now retiring.

Since you have been a State Trooper and run a Sheriff’s Department, what are the big differences?

State Troopers are state patrol, and are primarily limited to traffic enforcement. In a Sheriff’s Office, you are responsible for all aspects of law enforcement including patrol, investigation and corrections. For example, we have a jail with 180 beds and 250 inmates (the number of inmates is higher than the beds available as some are on electronic monitoring, in days jobs or on a crew that is housed elsewhere). So the duties of a State Trooper are more focused and a subset of what you will perform in a Sheriff’s office.

If you were just starting a career in law enforcement today, how would you prepare and would it be any different than when you started your career?

If I had to do it over, I would follow the same path.

How much value do you put in a candidate having an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in any field or in criminal justice?

I value the degree overall. You do gain maturity and socialization with a 2 or 4-year degree and those benefits and ties last a lifetime. Specifically, a criminal justice degree helps early in the career with nuts and bolts when you are on the street. Later, if you want to rise in the ranks, I put value on a Public Administration Degree, an Accounting degree or a Business Administration degree to help with those administrative or management duties.

Of the Deputies and Corrections Officers joining your team, how many have an advanced degree or military experience?

Roughly half of the people we hire have either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree or military experience. But, it is a level playing field for advancement from there.

How much has Homeland Security changed what a Sheriff does?

It hasn’t changed what a Sheriff does, which is primarily administrative. However for the office, we have received Federal support to improve communications – radios and radio equipment as we had computers on the patrol vehicles already. For example, we have just purchased radios that work on practically all frequencies and that makes communicating across various departments and agencies straightforward should the need arise.

How has your Sheriff’s department changed since 2002 overall and in terms of headcount?

We are like most other counties in the state – we are down in deputies on the road. Overall we are down 6 positions with the cuts starting 2 years ago. We have been able to reduce positions through attrition. However, I am pretty concerned about 2011 at this point as tax revenues are down. We get much of our funding from the Sales Tax.

How has the downturn impacted crimes?

Surprisingly, we have a downward trend since 2005. I think that this is credited to proactive law enforcement. We do share information with the cities in our County via the Spillman system. This system was deployed over 10 years. That helps out a great deal.

Is there any advice you would give to someone who wanted to be in this field?

Our minimum age requirement is 21 and you should be doing something between high school and age 21 that helps your career prospects. I would suggest using that time to get a 2-4 year degree or military experience, which is a good place to get group dynamics and experience rank.

Can you tell me what the top qualities or attributes required to become a successful Deputy Sheriff or Corrections Officer?

– Possess very good common sense
– Be able to work under adverse conditions and be flexible
– Don’t take yourself too seriously
– Be a compassionate individual
– Must have a passion for law enforcement

How long have you had Tasers deployed and how have they impacted law enforcement?

We have had them for 5-6 years. They have reduced injuries to officers and subjects. When I started in law enforcement, it would too often be knock down-drag out affair with officers and subjects often getting injured. With the Taser or threat of the Taser, you avoid the need for this type of altercation more often.

What are your plans now that you have decided not to run for Sheriff again?

I will spend more time with wife, kids, grandkids and hobbies – skiing, hunting, fishing and caring for my quarter horses.

What would like to share with our readers about Skagit County, Washington?

I have loved living here. I raised my two boys here. I really had planned to go to Olympia or Wenatchee, but we just loved it here. If you love the outdoors – hiking, hunting, skiing, boating, fishing and Puget Sound access, etc, then Skagit County is a wonderful place to live.

CJDS wishes Sheriff Grimstead a wonderful retirement. As an aside, the interviewer is very familiar with Skagit County as his wife grew up there with family still in the area. One of my favorite runs is on the dike along Padilla Bay. There is also the annual Tulip Festival in the Spring. And the hiking along highway 20 by Marblemount and east to Washington Pass in the North Cascades is unparalleled.