Former sheriff goes back on the beat

They say when one door closes another opens. For former Sheriff Mike Hawley, the door to the top cop’s job closed earlier this month while the door to the North Precinct just opened.

They say when one door closes another opens. For former Sheriff Mike Hawley, the door to the top cop’s job closed earlier this month while the door to the North Precinct just opened.

For 12 years, Hawley was sheriff. But now Hawley has turned in his sheriff’s badge to serve as the lieutenant in charge of the precinct north of Oak Harbor.

Republican Mark Brown was sworn in this week as the new sheriff.

Hawley, elected three times as sheriff, chose not to seek a fourth term. He said he’s happy to fight crime at a more local level, and now supervises 10 deputies.

For Hawley, it was an easy decision. After serving as sheriff for more than two decades it was time for a change.

Hawley said he is looking forward to the new assignment.

It will allow more time for his family, and more time to focus on his other job — writing mystery books.

“The sheriff’s job is 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “The responsibility falls on the sheriff’s shoulders.”

“My family suffered the most because I missed many of my kids activities while they were growing up,” Hawley said.

Still, Hawley said he wouldn’t trade the experience as the county’s sheriff for anything. He loves law enforcement and has worked as a cop in the Island County Sheriff’s Office since 1988.

Most of the people in the sheriff’s department came aboard after Hawley, who has hired three-quarters of the sheriff deputies and taken the office into the technology age.

“There was no e-mail or Internet when I took office,” he said.

He changed all that.

He was also instrumental in helping to get a new juvenile detention facility built. It just opened in Coupeville in April.

On his watch, the countywide 911 or I-COM system began routing all emergency calls through a central location. Hawley was also responsible for working with Fire District 3 and Island County Public Works in making the new South Precinct a reality. South End deputies are expected to move into their new headquarters on East Harbor Road soon.

A hallmark of Hawley’s tenure was his accessibility to the public. While serving as sheriff he hosted more than 1,000 neighborhood meetings, dealing with such controversial issues as drugs and hunting.

In more than a few meetings on the divisive hunting issue, Hawley kept the peace when tempers flared between hunters, homeowners and passive re-creationists.

Hawley also hosted a number of meetings to address concerns when sex offenders moved into the area.

“In all cases, we wanted to bring the public together because we had to talk about their issues and concerns,” he said. “Our primary goal is to make people feel safe.”

Hawley credits much of his office’s success to his administrative staff, including former Chief Civil Deputy Jan Smith; Russ Lindner, former chief criminal deputy; Mike Beech, former commander of the Special Crimes Unit and De Dennis, jail administrator.

Still, Hawley had his battles. He went head-to-head with county commissioners over decreasing law enforcement budgets.

Hawley has steadily maintained that rural Island County is faced with urban-style law enforcement problems, and he asked for more deputies through the years. Three were hired last year.

Still, Hawley was forced to eliminate several deputy positions during tough budget times, as well as the county’s special weapons and tactics team.

While he saw plenty of action through the years, some made headlines and some didn’t. Hawley said there are a few crimes that occurred while he was sheriff that remain unsolved that he would like to see solved.

“There are several I think that will get solved. On the South End, the Russell Douglas homicide that happened in Freeland in December 2003, is absolutely solvable and I believe there will be an arrest in the case,” he said.

The murder of Tamara M. Mattson, a 39-year-old Snohomish County woman, also in December 2003, remains a mystery, too. Mattson was discovered dumped on a trail at Camano Island State Park. A suspect has not been identified in the killing.

In his spare time, Hawley writes mystery and detective novels. His novels include “Double Bluff” and “Silent Proof,” published by Penguin Putnam.

Every morning, Hawley peels himself from his bed at 5 a.m. to sit in his kitchen and write in the silence of the morning. Now that he is no longer sheriff, Hawley plans on spending more time writing.

“There have been a number of issues that have distracted me from writing,” he said.

Despite the local name of his first book, Hawley said he felt that he couldn’t set his books on Whidbey Island, or even a made-up island in the Puget Sound, because it’s too close to home.

Yet Hawley does admit that many events on Whidbey Island are inspirations for events in his books. In fact, he said all of the scenes in his books are accurate in that they are based on real-life occurrences that he either lived or heard about.

Reading and writing has always been a major part of Hawley’s life. As a boy growing up in Seattle, he turned to the Hardy Boys and other books for entertainment because his mother — who was disabled by a drunken driver — was too poor to afford a television, telephone or a car, he said.

Luckily, they always lived near a library.

Hawley began his law enforcement career in 1988 when he joined the Island County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff. He rose through the ranks, serving as a detective, detective lieutenant, and finally, the jail manager.

Before his law enforcement career, however, he taught high school history. And he continues to teach as an adjunct professor of criminal justice for Chapman University at its satellite college located at Navy Air Station Whidbey Island.

Hawley and his wife M’Liss Rae live in Freeland. M’Lisse Hawley is an internationally known quilter who has written many books on quilting. Their son, Alexander is in the Marine Corps and daughter Adrienne is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University who is serving in the AmeriCorps.

He was appointed to the sheriff’s position first in 1996 to fill a vacancy, then he won the post in the 1997 election. He was then re-elected to four-year terms in 1998 and again in 2002.

Likable and easy going — unless he is dealing with a criminal — Hawley has been the most popular sheriff in recent memory. He has an engaging manner, and is well spoken.

His legacy as sheriff, he said, “is that his administration provided the ‘brick and mortar’ for the sheriff’s office.”

“It has been very rewarding to me to see the organization grow and develop into what it is today,” Hawley said.