The community approach: Former North Bend chief Mark Toner voted top cop

Former North Bend Police Chief Mark Toner looks over the parapet at Boxley’s during the 2013 North Bend Block Party. He was voted best police officer in the Best of the Valley poll. - Mary Miller Photo
Former North Bend Police Chief Mark Toner looks over the parapet at Boxley’s during the 2013 North Bend Block Party. He was voted best police officer in the Best of the Valley poll.
— image credit: Mary Miller Photo

This year’s top-rated police officer is a repeat offender, former North Bend Police Chief Mark Toner. Earlier this month, North Bend transitioned to a Snoqualmie Police contract, and Sgt. Toner was reassigned to a patrol area.

He’s been in law enforcement for 29 years, the last four and a half in North Bend, and he shared his thoughts on community policing from a vacation beach spot last week:

Community Policing - I see this phrase in two separate parts, not just one. Many folk feel that it is the police getting out in the community and being seen, taking care of business, and being responsive to community requests. That’s not a bad start, but it is a long way from where it can be. Instead of the narrow definition I take each word separately, beginning with “community.” Without the community’s involvement, policing is just enforcement. Sounds kinda thuggish, don’t you think?

My route has been to gain as much community participation as possible at all aspects. We need their input to help prioritize issues, but they need our input to do the same. It is easy for me to go after the bad guys but I can’t ignore the speed zones, stop sign violators, and even parking complaints that citizens voice. Likewise, the vast majority of the community is generally unaware of crime trends unless it directly affects them.

This was the nexus of our monthly community meetings. Education of both parties is a huge step in community policing. This is the same reason that I made every effort to respond to 100 percent of my e-mails and phone calls, even if they weren’t directed at me. (I know, I didn’t get 100 percent, but that was more of a competence issue than intent).

Through direct correspondence with the people, our communication was clear, concise and accurate. After these communications, we rarely had any dispute — we may still have differed in our opinions, but we respected each other’s positions and were able to move on.

Lets take the second word - Policing. While enforcement is a large part of our duties, how we get there is up to each cop. Again, education is essential. For an example, if I were to arrest every law violator, the jails would be full, the city coffers would be empty, and people would be in fear of cops — after all, everyone speeds a little bit, don’t they?  Instead, by using education and friendly but firm warnings, we can avert violations, save money, and build trust and friendships.

Community policing isn’t driving around with blacked-out windows to avoid the public; it isn’t handcuffing a bad guy for jaywalking or voicing his First Amendment right. It is building and relying on mutual trust that makes it work. We need to work together.

I’ve been on since early 1985, so it’ll be 29 years next month.  It’s a great job and I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to start all over. KCSO has been a great department and the variety it offers has given me the depth to do what I do. I’ve worked patrol, street drugs, vice, sex crimes, burglary, robbery, and homicide — each a specialty unit that allowed me to focus on that area to gain expertise and become a much more well-rounded officer.

My time as a city chief was much more rewarding than I could have imagined. It was the first time that I was able to focus on one specific community rather than on one particular crime. It did much to demonstrate that most folks are good, hard-working people who support and appreciate our efforts. The friends that I’ve developed here will last a long time.

My new position is working in our southeast precinct, night shift. I’ll be covering everything between Issaquah and Enumclaw, from Renton to Greenwater. It’s a huge area and it will be difficult to tie into the communities as I have done here, particularly on night shift. In my spare time I’ll be managing the Sheriff’s K-9 unit. I’m looking forward to learning new skills in that area as well.

So much for quietly riding off into the sunset, eh? Keep in touch — my cell phone and email will remain the same.  I may not answer in the daytime if I’m sleeping, but I’ll always be ready to help my friends in and around North Bend.

Take care. Thanks for everything. You are good folk.


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