A change is coming to the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department. Effective Oct. 31, 2017, at 11:59 p.m., Police Chief Tracy Wyckoff will be retired and the baton will be passed on to life time White Salmon resident Sergeant Mike Hepner.
Chief Wyckoff has been in law enforcement for a total of 38 years, the majority of which he served in Skamania County. But for the last five years he has been leading, and to a certain extent rebuilding, the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department.
“When I took on the position here I literally had someone hand me the keys to the office and say, ‘good luck!’ There was a point where I just thought, what have I got myself into?” said Wyckoff.
“There was a lot that needed fixing within the department to bring it into the 21st century technologically, but mostly we needed to repair our relationship with the community,” he added.
In a nearly 40-year career there are bound to be things you regret and things you are are proud of. According to Wyckoff he has no regrets as an officer nor as police chief. He attributes this rare success in a law enforcement career, to the overwhelming support from his officers, the community, the councils and other law enforcement agencies. The thing he is most proud of is how far the department has come in the last five years, both in its ability to handle situations on its own before calling on outside resources and in regaining the communities trust in the department and its officers through its efficiency, professionalism and relatability. The latter, he says, is due in part to having officers like Sgt. Hepner, long-time locals who strive to make this community what they know it can be.
Sergeant Mike Hepner has been in law enforcement for close to 17 years, also serving in Skamania county for the majority of his career thus far. Hepner was born and raised in White Salmon where he lives with his wife Jamie. After high school Hepner attended Washington State University to study criminal justice.
“In high school I had a part- time job where I interacted with law enforcement a lot and was encouraged by the police chief at the time, Ned Kindler, to join the force after college,” said Hepner.
Hepner started his law enforcement career in White Salmon, but really built on it while in Skaman-ia where he first met Wyckoff. Hepner returned to White Salmon from Skamania about a year after Wyckoff was made police chief.
“It’s been an honor to have his kind of leadership here and I’m really lucky to have someone like Tracy to guide me into this new position,” said Hepner.
Wyckoff also stated just how much he really relied on Hepner throughout his career.
“He (Hepner) has over 200 hours in leadership training and has achieved recognition by the state for it. It’s truly impressive and has been a real asset to the how we do things in the department,” said Wyckoff.
Hepner says he will continue to follow Wyckoff’s example of 21st century policing which encourages the officers to develop relationships with in the community.
“The national narrative right now shows a lot of mistrust in police officers and the communities they serve. We don’t want that. We want people to know, not only that we are the good guys, but that we are also regular people in this community too,” says Wyckoff
“Especially young people and kids. We don’t want them to be scared of us because of what they seen on TV at night,” added Hepner
Both Wyckoff and Hepner said one of the biggest benefits to the department’s ability to be effective in the community is having officers Ashley Hackett and Pedro Virgen on the force.
“We’ve had situations where female victims of crimes have felt more comfortable speaking to Ashely than to one of our other officers. The same is true of Pedro when we have had victims of crimes where English is difficult for them. Pedro and Ashley’s personalities just fit with the department and really with this line of work in general,” said Wyckoff.
“We encourage people interested in becoming police officers to go on a ride along with us and also do some research on what it’s like to be in law enforcement. More times than not it can be pretty routine, but every now and then you will be witness to some very dangerous and scary situations that can have a profound effect on you. Beyond skills, personality plays a large role in effective law enforcement so when we hire people we really consider their personalities regardless of gender or ethnicity,” said Hepner.
Overall both Wyckoff and Hepner feel the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department will continue to be successful and effective in the community.