Wahkiakum County Sheriff Mark Howie Announces Retirement


April 18, 2024

Sheriff Mark Howie

After 34 years in law enforcement, Wahkiakum County Sheriff Mark Howie has decided it's time to retire. "I was always told by many retired cops that you will know when the time comes to hang up the uniform," said Howie. Following his quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2023, he came to realize he is no longer the invincible, hard-charging young man he used to be. "I want to enjoy the health and the fragments of youth I have left to have more adventures and not be a fatal statistic that a lot of retired members of law enforcement all too quickly become," he explained. "I have lived a grand 34 years in this profession, and I know in my heart it is time to pass the torch." Howie's last day in office is planned for June 30, 2024.

Howie served in law enforcement with the Tukwila Police Department for 20 years before joining the Wahkiakum County Sheriff's office. With his mother living in Cathlamet, Howie and wife Deb were frequent visitors to the town and, in 2006, purchased an in-town cottage and subsequently opened an antique shop which later morphed into a corner coffee shop. During their increasingly frequent visits, Howie became friends with members of the Sheriff's Office, including then Undersheriff Jon Dearmore. When Dearmore decided to campaign for Sheriff, he asked Howie if he would be his Undersheriff. Dearmore was elected in late 2010 and Tukwila Sergeant Howie became Wahkiakum County Undersheriff Howie.

With Dearmore's death in 2012, the result of a terrible but all too familiar scene within the law enforcement profession, Howie was appointed to fill the remainder of Dearmore's term. A popular Sheriff, Howie was subsequently reelected in 2014, 2018 and 2022.

In recent years, situations such as the George Floyd death have significantly impacted law enforcement. When asked about those impacts, Howie responded: "I've seen some changes for the better and some for the worse. Having a more diverse workplace has added a lot of perspective to our profession. What has gone overboard, however, is the way some non-law enforcement people's view of us has changed for the worse. There are nearly one million law enforcement officers across the country and over a million contacts with the public every 24-hours. The incidents like the George Floyd death are so very rare and bad apples like ex-officer Derek Chauvin have managed to discredit all the good work, all the good deeds for the other 900 thousand officers around the country. These types of tragic, horrible incidents are so rare but have tainted peoples' perception of us deeply and will for a long time to come. It has overridden the millions of good interactions we have with our communities on a daily basis. The backlash has also been harshest to all the great cops who continue to do their jobs faithfully every day. When certain media portray us as a group of racist fascists that are bent on brutalizing black men, it is a constant uphill battle to negate that wrong perception. The 'police reforms' that evolved in this state after that event were a knee jerk reaction that not only punished law enforcement agencies across the state but resulted in more crime and more victims. Washington state has the lowest number of cops per capita. The lowest in the nation. So much of that is because of the anti-police attitude coming from Olympia as well as the overall negative portrayal in much of the media. We see how the state lawmakers that supported these unnecessary changes have walked back a lot of them and/or have left Olympia. The current trend to right these wrongs in public safety is slowly moving in the right direction. With all of that said, the support and love we have received from the people in Wahkiakum County has been phenomenal. Through the years, we have formed a lot of great partnerships with the various organizations in the county and as well, have established trust and lasting relationships with the people we serve. It has been an incredible experience as the sheriff to see that grow.

Luckily, these last 13 years, I have not had to witness the amount of crime I saw and still see in metropolitan areas like King County. Our crime rate continues to stay at a low level for the size of our county. What I have seen increase ten-fold is the number of mental health calls for service. This is the trend everywhere and it's a whole other story to cover that issue! Also, we are seeing an increase in usage of hard drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine across the state including our county. They are so easily accessible, are cheap to acquire, and are highly addictive. For a while, as part of the "police reform" to minimize police contact with users, our state decriminalized their use (even use in public). I thought that by moving into a rural public safety mode that things would be slower and settled. What I found is that although the crime rate is much lower, we still get the same kind of calls for person-on-person crimes, and still see violence as you do in the city. The rate of occurrence is just lower. The stresses are still there, only they come from different sources, i.e. small-town politics, personally knowing some of the folks that end up being a victim or charged with a crime. Lately however, the stressors have come from the state in their attempt at police reforms as well as unfunded mandates, which really affect our county budget."

Pausing in thought, Howie then added, "We are taught to enforce the laws based on elements of a crime. Within those elements however, the lines are not always black and white. My philosophy has developed over the decades through baseline principles and experiences that have proven to me that a lot of what we are interpreting is in the gray area. Law enforcement does the best job at any incident when we take in all that we are seeing, apply reason, experience, and understanding, and formulate the best response or the best solution. You have to think through the options and figure out what would bring the best outcome for all involved. It's not a black and white world, and neither is police work."

Assessing the state of the Sheriff's Office upon his departure, Howie commented, "I would say we are in a great position to move forward into the future. We have gone through a lot of local, state, and national changes that have deeply affected law enforcement. It is a more dangerous world than when I first started 34 years ago, but we have a lot more tools than we did then to deal with this ever-quickly changing world. We have Wellness and Resiliency programs and resources to assist officers and families throughout their careers. We have a better focus on physical and mental wellness. Our office is now set up with a Chaplaincy program that was sorely missing for years. We have jump started our boating education program, upgraded to modern equipment, gear, vehicles, training, technology, and, with the help of stakeholders, are in the process of the biggest upgrade in history to our countywide radio system. Since my time as Sheriff, we have added patrol sergeant and corrections sergeant positions and have added career steps for the corrections officers. We have a great team of dedicated and hard-working law enforcement professionals.

There is a planned transition within the Sheriff's office. Over the past year, Howie has been discussing a plan with his top two patrol command staff, Undersheriff Gary Howell and Seargeant John Mason. Together, the two of them have 40 years' experience in law enforcement. Howell has agreed to stay on and continue as Undersheriff. Howie will recommend to the County Commissioners that Mason be appointed Sheriff upon his retirement. If the Commissioners approve the recommendation, Mason would serve as Sheriff until November of next year and then, if elected, would serve through the remaining year of Howie's term. Joannie Kuhlmeyer will remain in the other command position as Chief Civil Deputy managing 911 communications, the Jail, and in charge of civil processes.

"I owe a lot of thanks," Howie said, "I want to thank the people of Wahkiakum County for entrusting me to lead the fine men and women of our Sheriff's Office. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be your sheriff. He has been my guiding light throughout my tenure as a police officer, and a beacon of hope when life seemed dark. I well up with pride in our public servants for the way they care for this community, and the professional standard embodied in their service to the public. Being the people's sheriff has been a humbling honor, and one I only hope I have fulfilled with the highest level of integrity, service, and respect that our department's core values represent. I have come to know and care for so many people in this county. My life is better because of it.

Lastly, I want to thank my wife Deb and our family for all their support throughout the years, especially when times were tough, tragedy struck, or when I missed all those holidays and birthdays because I was called to duty serving the public. You have been my rock. I would not be here without you and my life would not be as enriched."

Upon retiring, the Howies intend to enjoy the new home and shop they recently built near Skamakowa and engage in some RV'ing in addition to checking off items on their bucket list.


Reader Comments(1)

Bradd writes:

I first met Sheriff Howie after the death of the previous Sheriff. My first impression of Howie was correct. As a retired police officer I have a pretty good insight into police leadership. Howie was respected by his peers. He was well liked by the community. A rare combination. The public, & agency were rewarded with the appointment, then several elections of Sheriff Howie. Being friends with one of the Sheriff's deputies for over 50 years. He confirms what we all know. Good luck sir.


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