John McCroskey Commentary: Centralia Chief Makes Right Call Firing Officers


It has been a difficult time if you’re in law enforcement these past couple years. Politicians and most mainstream media outlets, especially in big cities, have bashed the actions of officers even when it was patently unfair.

Politics and emotions — not facts — were in many cases all that’s been important.

And then, we have a local story about four Centralia officers, including their sergeant, who ignored a 911 call (actually it sounds like several calls) and were fired for allegedly failing to respond to domestic violence and protection order violation that was in progress.

To be clear, I have no idea what other information the officers and sergeant had (I can’t think of one that justifies their failure to act), but it doesn’t sound like their failure was anything but a violation of their oath and their duty.  And if the facts are as reported — and I have no reason to believe otherwise — Chief Stacey Denham’s action was certainly warranted.

Keep in mind that over the years as domestic violence incidents were more widely reported, there was a time when unless the victim cooperated, there was nothing we could do at the door. 

Even with evidence of a crime, absent a willing victim, who was often afraid and had no other place to go, we left, often to return again the same night.

Over time, when a report came in at an address we had been to many times before and not had any cooperation from anyone, we didn’t have the same urgency to respond. It was just the Joneses or Smiths fighting again.

The idea of a protection order was born to reduce the burden on the victim of a domestic violence incident and let the officers make a determination of a crime, make an arrest and remove one (or both) from the situation, without cooperation of the victim. 

I can’t say how well this has worked statistically, and it for sure has not eliminated domestic violence, but anecdotally for me it certainly had an impact.

Which just makes the failure of the officers to act that much more egregious.

The woman who either petitioned for a protection order, or the judge who issued it as a result of the facts presented, had a right to expect that order would be enforced and be used to protect the victim of such abuse.

Just call and we’ll respond, I’m sure was the promise.

I do not know if the people involved in this incident were familiar to the police officers or not, and it doesn’t matter. The facts presented are pretty damning, and when your best defense is lunch, it’s not really a defense at all.

As to the fact the fired officers are in arbitration, that’s a very union-friendly environment and very common. At least one of the officers involved has been through this before and was reinstated with back pay. That incident involved Tasing suspects multiple times (excessive force) and allegedly lying about it. Both of those things are serious and either could — and often should — lead to termination. 

In that case, the arbitrator didn’t agree.

As far as I know, I’ve never seen a situation where an entire shift of officers allegedly failed on such a serious level they were all terminated. Nor have I seen a situation in an agency this size where the chief had to make such a decision knowing how it will affect the whole agency.  It’s sad to me that not one of these officers thought better of this and acted — even alone. A little initiative would have gone a long way prodding the others to follow.

So I’ll wait and see what the arbitrator does, but in the meantime, don’t paint the entire agency with the same brush these officers are painted with. I know there are many fine police officers that do fine work every day in Centralia.

Not perfect, but they are good cops who know their duty and do it.

I won’t be surprised if an arbitrator disagrees with the chief’s decision — but they shouldn’t. It was a good call and the right one, too.


John McCroskey was Lewis County sheriff from 1995 to 2005. He lives outside Chehalis and can be contacted at