Langley police chief trades in badge for sunshine

Langley Police Chief Randy Heston sits in his office moments before reporting to City Hall for the city  council meeting Aug. 5. After 10 years, Heston will retire and move to Las Vegas, Nevada with his wife and son. His last day is Aug. 15.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Langley Police Chief Randy Heston sits in his office moments before reporting to City Hall for the city council meeting Aug. 5. After 10 years, Heston will retire and move to Las Vegas, Nevada with his wife and son. His last day is Aug. 15.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Whidbey and Western Washington weather finally beat Randy Heston.

The 10-year Langley police officer-turned-chief will officially be a retired lawman Aug. 15. Randolph Heston, who has gone by his nickname “Randy” for most of his life, submitted a letter of retirement to Mayor Fred McCarthy on July 29.

“My wife has been on this island since the ‘70s. I got stationed here in the late ‘70s,” Heston said. “We’ve been here 30 years or so, we’ve both dreamed of retiring somewhere tropical.”

The Hestons plan to move south to Nevada, “where it’s warmer,” for a while. Enrolling their son into a new high school was a driving force behind the quick notice. School begins in late August in Nevada — the family plans to move to the Las Vegas area — not early September as it does in Washington. After their son graduates, Heston said he isn’t certain what he and his wife would do next.

“We’re not sure, and that’s the fun of it,” said Heston, 52.

Technically, this will be Heston’s second retirement. He retired from the Navy as a chief petty officer in 2002. While still enlisted, Heston served as a reserve deputy with the Island County Sheriff’s Office for 11 years starting in 1992. Then he started his career with the Langley Police Department in 2003 as a full-time officer.

Heston was hired as the city’s police chief in February 2011 after his predecessor, Bob Herzberg, retired.

“I’ve been in uniform since 1979,” Heston said. “I think I’ve done my duty — I served my country and I served my city — and I’m done.”

As an officer of the law, Heston said he tried to put himself in others’ shoes when responding to a call. He hoped to leave a legacy of empathy and modernizing his department’s equipment.

Since he was hired in 2011, Heston updated lots of the equipment used by city police: new radar guns, a portable, handheld breathalyzer and dual-band UHF/VHF radios.

Heston also secured grant funding for RADAR speed signs, applied for traffic safety grants and found money to regularly train his officers.

“He embodies the term, ‘community policing,’” said Mayor Fred McCarthy, who later recalled asking Heston to evaluate him after a few months on the job. McCarthy said Heston told him he had chutzpah after the mayor scolded the police chief in a public meeting for interrupting someone else.

When Heston was hired, he took over a department with three officers and a chief. The council cut one position for budgetary reasons, but Heston fought for a fourth, full-time officer, which he received this year. Langley has a full-time population of about 1,200 and needs a four-officer police department, he said.

In his career, Heston learned that a small-town police force has a stake in attending football games, music performances, arts festivals, as well as issuing a citation here and there.

“We’re part of the community and it’s important the community sees the police here too, not just arresting people,” he said.

“I can walk around town and know everybody by first name. Langley is one big, huge neighborhood block watch.”

Langley, which Heston called “one of the safest places to live,” has seen some changes to its policing since he assumed the top-cop post. He worked with the city and the South Whidbey School District to implement a school resource officer, which will be filled by a rotating cast of officers visiting the schools during lunch and other high visibility times. The more children the officers know, Heston said, the more likely they can deter juvenile delinquency.

After a decade of serving and protecting, Heston reflected on a call he responded to Sunday. A caller reported a man covered in blood walking along Highway 525. When Heston found him, the man was covered in juice from smashed blackberries.

“There’s no law against rubbing blackberry juice and walking along the highway,” Heston said.

Langley is in the process of finding an interim police chief within its own department. One major problem facing city law enforcement is it is already down one officer – Deputy David Marks tore an Achilles tendon while chasing a suspect into the woods.

There will be a farewell party for Heston from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14 at City Hall. Before the party, the council will convene in a workshop to discuss Langley’s police staffing issues, including finding an interim replacement.


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