20th Anniversary Photo Contest – March Winner

Officer Dave Heenan

The COPS Office is pleased to feature the March 2015 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest: the Swinomish (Washington) Tribal Police Department. Officer Dave Heenan, who has been in law enforcement for over 20 years, is pictured helping three young girls ride the department mountain bike during the Swinomish Police Explorer Post Community Night.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is a small one, with less than 700 of its members residing on the reservation. The community, located in Washington, is made up of descendants from four aboriginal bands: Swinomish, Samish, Lower Skagit, and Kikiallus. The Swinomish are considered the People of the Salmon and are best known as a fishing tribe. The community places a strong emphasis on investing in its children, natural resources, and economic development and is one of the largest employers in Skagit County. Chairman Brian “Spee-pots” Cladoosby shares in his statement on the tribe’s website that “The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is not a big tribe, nor is our community a large community, but our people have the same needs, hopes, and dreams as all communities throughout the world . . . . We want safe neighborhoods and a clean environment. We want to preserve our traditions, culture, foods, dances, crafts; in essence, our way of life.”1

While being a strong and vibrant community, the tribe has had to confront some challenges, particularly with drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Many residents have had some sort of interaction with law enforcement, either personally or through family and friends. Despite this, the community is a very engaged one, with weekly dinners, monthly ceremonies to honor the elders, and yearly sobriety awards dinners.

The Swinomish Police Department is also small, with just 17 officers, an assistant chief, and chief. All but two officers are nonnative to the community, which can make building trust a challenge in a close-knit community like Swinomish.

“It is a challenge for officers when most community members only see them when they’re in trouble, especially the kids,” said Ann Catherine Smock, of the Swinomish Tribal Police Department Records Office.

In an attempt to help improve positive police visibility with youth, the Swinomish Police Chief instituted the Explorer Post Community Night. Community Night offers residents of all ages the opportunity to engage with police in a casual, informal setting. Held in the middle of the village on the basketball court, the event gives community members easy access to officers and the activity stations.

“We set up the command center so the kids could go in and see what it looks like, we had one of the Harley Davidson motorcycles set up for kids to sit on, we let the kids get in one of our Tahoe SUVs, and we had the patrol mountain bikes available for kids to ride,” said Smock. “It was a well-attended event. We had free food for anyone who came and the kids really enjoyed it.”

The featured photo shows Officer Dave Heenan, who has worked in law enforcement for over 20 years and been with the Swinomish Police Department for just over one year, helping one young girl ride the police mountain bike while two other girls help give her a pushing start. Smock described her interaction with a woman who brought her grandson to the event. “The only time he’s ever seen the police is when they came and took his mother away,” she shared. The little boy, only four years old, experienced the traumatic event of his mother being arrested and taken to prison. During Community Night, he spent two hours with officers getting on, off, and in every police vehicle available.

Community Night also provided the Swinomish Police Department the opportunity to recruit youth for the Police Explorers Program, which aims to introduce young people to law enforcement while they gain community leadership skills. Community youth between the ages of 14 and 21 who are accepted into the program offer a great deal of support to the police and tribal leaders. They help to bridge the sometimes visible divide between the police department and the community. Smock shared that many of the police explorers who age out of the program still come back to support the police department. “They help out and we don’t even have to ask them to,” she stated.

The COPS Office congratulates the Swinomish Tribal Police Department for being one of 12 winners of the COPS Office Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.

Written with photo and contributions from Ann Catherine Smock, Swinomish Tribal Police Department.

Najla Haywood
Special Contributor
The COPS Office


1 “Who We Are,” Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, accessed February 5, 2015 ., http://www.swinomish.org/.

Back to top

March Photo Contest Winner | Stopping Violence | National Network for Safe Communities | Recap of Winter Conferences | 2015 Sutin Award Open