Chief Surber retires from Port Townsend police

Posted 5/21/21

After 24 years with the Port Townsend Police Department, most-recently as its chief of police, Troy Surber has said his goodbyes.

Surber bid farewell Monday to the department he’s served for …

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Chief Surber retires from Port Townsend police


After 24 years with the Port Townsend Police Department, most-recently as its chief of police, Troy Surber has said his goodbyes.

Surber bid farewell Monday to the department he’s served for the last 24 years.

But his departure from the department is unlikely to be the end of his service to the community. The former chief said he intends to make a bid for a seat on the Port Townsend City Council in two years’ time.

In the near-term, Surber said he’s going to enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation.

His time as chief has been heralded by two significant hurdles for the department; the COVID-19 pandemic, and public outcry to re-evaluate how modern policing is done in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer. 

Surber said having the opportunity to review best practices in policing and comparing those to what police already have been doing in Port Townsend largely showed that the department had been operating in a manner consistent with best practices, even prior to the formation of the city’s Ad Hoc Committee on Law Enforcement and Public Safety.

Surber added that he had every confidence in Thomas Olson — the incoming chief — and his ability to take the recommendations from the committee and work those into department practices.

Over his many years serving the department, Surber has countless stories of interesting interactions with the people he’s met during emergency calls.

But when pondering which story best encapsulated his time with the department, it wasn’t the funny ones or the harrowing tales that jumped to mind.

“I got called to the library and there was a middle-age gentleman who was in crisis,” he recalled. “I asked him to walk with me and we sat down on the steps and I sat there for about 45 minutes and kind of worked him through his crisis.”

Surber said his interaction with the man was an example of the type of policing he has always strived to embody.

“That’s kind of what I really wanted my entire career to be all about; just helping people make better decisions,” Surber said.
“I don’t believe the vast majority of people are bad people. I think they’ve just had a bad week, a month or even a year.” 

For young people considering a future career in law enforcement, Surber suggested finding a department in a community that they care about. 

“I wanted to only work here. We selected this [place] a long time ago and I knew where I wanted to be,” he said. “Find a department where you want to work and you want to make a difference in the community.”

“Have a department that has the values that you have and don’t forget why you became a police officer,” he added.

Surber attributed his drive to become a police officer from an early interaction he had in his youth with a deputy who would serve as a sort of role model to him.

“I had a good upbringing, but I don’t know where I’d have been if I hadn’t had that guidance from another adult,” He explained. “I think kids and young people are more successful when they have a lot of good influence from other adults.”

That, Surber said, was what he was hoping to be for another young person at some point during his career.

In a written statement he prepared ahead of his departure, Surber said he would continue to live in the city he served.

“The city of Port Townsend has been a home to our family for the last 27 years and it will be where we will continue to make our home as I enter my retirement this year,” he wrote.

Surber also thanked his fellow officers and support staff.

“I owe my gratitude to the many men and women, officers and civilians, who have served in the city of Port Townsend’s police department during my tenure here,” he continued. “Their professionalism, diligence, compassion, and companionship have made my time here more meaningful, more rewarding, and more fun than I would have had any right to expect. It has been my honor to know each and every one of them.”

In welcoming Olson to the department, Surber said the new chief’s experience would no doubt be a boon to the city of Port Townsend.

“We are fortunate to bring Tom Olson aboard as our new police chief,” Surber said. “Chief Olson brings decades of experience that will be instrumental in taking the department to the next level of excellence, and I have every confidence he can shepherd the Port Townsend Police Department into the future with a steady hand and a keen eye to meet the needs and honor the values of our fair city.”

Olson said he appreciated Surber allowing a period of overlap between his arrival and the outgoing chief’s last day.

“You don’t normally get the opportunity to cross over with the person you’re taking over for,”  Olson said. “Even up to today, Troy is doing the duties of the chief, so it’s been really good to be able to do that.”

Olson added that he would likely need to continue to consult with Surber even after he has transitioned into his retirement.    

“I’ll continue to be in contact with him in his retirement whether he likes it or not,” Olson said with a smile. “I know where he lives.”