Everything except animal control

Retiring Cheney police Capt. Rick Campbell has held most department positions over career

The only position Cheney Capt. Rick Campbell has not held in the police department is that of dog catcher.

There’s a good reason for that. Cheney doesn’t currently have such a position, and only employed an animal control officer from the late 1980s to early 1990s when Campbell was just starting his patrol duties.

The veteran of over 30 years with the department is retiring on March 31, but he’s leaving behind a legacy that Cheney Police Chief John Hensley believes will stretch far into the future.

“I’m sort of in denial,” Hensley said of the departure. Hensley said he’s relied on the long-time department veteran since becoming chief in 2011, particularly in the first couple of years as he “learned the ropes.”

“He always knows why the department adopted that code or that procedure,” Hensley said. “And he knows everybody. I’m going to miss him more than I realize right now.”

Campbell moved to the area in 1977 in sixth-grade, a fortuitous event in that it had a long-lasting impact on his life. That was when he met his future wife, Carol.

“I hated her, and she hated me,” Campbell said. “If you told either of us in sixth-grade that we were going to get married, we’d have vehemently denied it.”

Something did happen because the pair began dating as sophomores in high school, graduating in 1984 and getting married two years later.

Rick Campbell got involved in police work while a freshman in high school through the Explorer Scout program. He was hired as a police dispatcher in December 1984, also working at Pasta and Pastry, etc. on Garland Avenue in Spokane and at the Elegant Egg Restaurant in Cheney — the previous occupant of the building now housing Fellowship Baptist Church on 1st Street.

Campbell said his dispatcher compensation was room and board along with tuition at Eastern Washington University, in exchange for 32 hours a week of work. Soon after, and after leaving the restaurant positions, he began working at Cheney Municipal Court as a bailiff and process server, at EWU as a student patrol officer — checking building doors and escorting students — and in 1987, as a volunteer reserve officer with Cheney.

“Basically, I was working five jobs, only four of which were paid,” Campbell said. “The reservist wasn’t, but that was a means to an end.”

Campbell was hired as a full time officer with the department on March 1, 1989, the 11th in the then 10-man department. He went to the Spokane Police Academy, but halfway through training broke his foot during a physical test.

Campbell had to start his training over again, this time across the state at the academy in Burien in July. Two weeks into his training, Carol called to say she was going into labor with their first child.

Rick told the mother-to-be that he couldn’t get home for the event because he had two block exams, two midterms and a physical training test the next day. After completing the first four, Campbell said he essentially finished his last lap of the PT by running to his car and driving to Spokane to catch the birth of his son Richard.

Campbell did his first stint in investigations in 1991, going back and forth between being a detective and patrol work for the next 11 years. During his time in patrol he was either a patrol officer, a supervisor or a patrol supervisor.

“When I was in patrol, I missed detectives,” Campbell said. “When I was in detectives, I missed patrol.”

Campbell played a big part in the 1991-1992 investigation and subsequent arrest of four members of Eastern’s football team for distributing crack cocaine: Tommy Lucas, Aaron Langston, Charles “Chuckie” Welch and Clinton Blythe. The investigation involved five search warrants, three jurisdictions and 33 agents in a number of agencies including the Drug Enforcement Agency and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

In March 2001, Campbell was promoted to sergeant, and in 2005 to lieutenant. At the end of 2006 he became deputy chief for a month while the city searched for a new chief, a position he also served in for a few months prior to Hensley’s arrival.

Campbell said the mayor in 2006 didn’t like the term deputy chief, so he received the title of commander, which he wore until 2016 when he became the administrative captain for code enforcement, a position from which Hensley said he has made a huge impact on how the city looks, and how it is represented. Hensley said the city has had over 400 complaints about code violations, of which Campbell has been able to successfully resolve but four or five.

“He’s elevated the process in the city without making enemies,” Hensley said. “He’s been very successful at getting compliance. He talks to people without offending them.”

Campbell can recount many pivotal events in emergency response during his time in Cheney. The city’s dispatch center got its first computer in the mid-1980s, replacing the old teletype machine, and went to the regional 911 system in 1987-1988. Campbell said this had its advantages in better training and equipment, but created a reliance on technology and the loss of a more personal form of policing.

“We had a phone book with all the (emergency) numbers in it,” Campbell said. “We could have services en route before the actual (call) data came in.”

He was on a call outside the city in Tucker Prairie when Firestorm occurred in October 1991, helping his grandparents as fire lurked around their rural property. The event led to the creation of county-wide mutual aid agreements between police and fire agencies.

Two of the most important events for Campbell during his tenure were the accreditation of Cheney’s police department and the creation of its chaplaincy program. The former helps the department with staying current on best practices of law enforcement while providing direction for positive growth through a peer review process.

“That’s irreplaceable,” Campbell said. “It validates what we’re doing. It helps keep the balance between liberty and safety. It’s a fine balance.”

“He’s the driving force behind accreditation,” Hensley said of Campbell. “Now, agencies from across the state relay on his advice when getting into the process or when preparing to go through an audit.”

Campbell said he felt called to step into chaplaincy in 1994 when a former chaplain left the department. He did the training, and has been involved with it ever since, serving as chaplain for 11 years and then stepping back to become coordinator after recruiting George Abrams as chaplain.

Cheney’s department now has four individuals who serve as chaplain, something Hensley said is vital not only to the community but officers’ well being as well.

“We do such a good job of teaching officers how to put the badge on, but not such a good job of how they take it off,” Campbell said.

Hensley also said Campbell has played a crucial role in equipment procurement, helping to standardize the department’s materials such as its vehicles. He has also played a large role in the department’s professionalism.

“This department didn’t have a policy and procedures manual until Rick got to it,” Hensley added.

Campbell said that physically, he’s capable of continuing on with the department. But after more than 30 years with the department, he felt it was time to step aside and let someone else step into leadership roles.

“It’s a younger person’s job,” he said.

Campbell said he has plans for his post-retirement career, including taking it easy for a bit. From the perspective of his former colleagues, whatever he does in the future, he will do with his cellphone nearby.

“I told him, you’re going to get calls,” Hensley said.

John McCallum can be reached at [email protected].

Author Bio

John McCallum, Retired editor

John McCallum is an award-winning journalist who retired from Cheney Free Press after more than 20 years. He received 10 Washington Newspaper Publisher Association awards for journalism and photography, including first place awards for Best Investigative, Best News and back-to-back awards in Best Breaking News categories.


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