The Toledo Police Department’s new chief, Duane Garvais Lawrence, officially started work last week.
Entering Donna’s Place for a Thursday afternoon interview with a Chronicle reporter, Garvais Lawrence shook hands with the restaurant’s patrons, introduced himself as their new police chief and invited them to visit the station.
“My philosophy is to have a community-oriented police department,” he said. “We’re going to be working with surrounding schools and churches, the veterans programs, the elders, the youth — anything that's involving community, we want to be a part of. Let them know they can count on us.”
Garvais Lawrence’s law enforcement career began after his service in the U.S. Marine Corps ended in 1992, when he saw an advertisement in a newspaper for a police officer position on the Cowlitz Indian Reservation.
“I think it was a path that was set before me that I didn’t know about,” he said about his decision to work in law enforcement. “I don't like bullies. I don't like people that hurt other people for no reason … So it was kind of like the perfect fit. I was able to stand up for people that couldn’t stand up for themselves.”
During his six-year tenure as an officer for the Cowlitz Indian Reservation, he spent two years in the North Central Washington Task Force. From there, he applied for a position with the U.S. Department of the Interior and was hired as a special agent.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Garvais Lawrence was detailed to guard half of then-President George W. Bush’s cabinet and to patrol Washington, D.C.
He later took a job as a detective for the Lakewood Police Department in Washington, then went on to become police chief for the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe. He then moved to Idaho with his family and stayed out of law enforcement before returning to work for the Cowlitz Indian Reservation, becoming assistant chief of police.
When that position ended, he went back to Idaho with his family and remained out of law enforcement for just under two years.
During that hiatus, Garvais Lawrence launched the grassroots Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Bike-Run, where he invited bikers and runners to join him on a route from the Washington state Capitol in Olympia to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to help uplift Tribal communities and raise awareness about crimes against Indigenous people.
While the City of Toledo announced its intention to hire Garvais Lawrence in early August, he had to undergo some additional training and background checks and renew certifications before he could legally get back in uniform.
“You have to complete all that before you go into a role as a law enforcement officer,” he said.
His experience in Toledo has been positive so far, he said, citing the support of the police department’s staff, the Toledo City Council and Toledo Mayor Steve Dobosh.
When asked what makes this position different from the law enforcement roles he’s held in the past, Garvais Lawrence said, “A small town presents some unique, different challenges. And it's almost like a tribal community, in a different sense. Everybody knows everybody, and they have a certain way of doing things. So when you come into a situation like this, you should be able to find common ground (between people who disagree).”
He said “agreeing to disagree” is a strategy that America needs back.
“That's what I want to bring here: Unification, the ability to come to a compromise on a perceived situation or problems and still be friends the next day,” he said.
He said he wants to respect the work of former Toledo police chiefs Bert Morey, John Brockmueller and Sam Patrick, who each set different yet positive standards for the position. He also has great respect and admiration for Randy Pennington, who retired in July after 36 years as a reserve officer and sergeant for the Toledo Police Department.
“You're talking about a military veteran, (over) 30 years of serving his community — it’s hard to find in America nowadays, and Toledo is the center of that,” he said.
The Toledo Police Department has been inoperable since Aug. 1, following the departure of former police chief Sam Patrick and the Toledo City Council’s decision to deny a proposed contract with the Napavine Police Department.
The Winlock Police Department is currently contracted to provide temporary law enforcement in the Toledo area until the Toledo Police Department has enough full-time officers to service the area.