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Pat Ritchie has seen it all on the force

Patti Ritchie’s last day of work was Friday after 31 years with the department. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Patti Ritchie’s last day of work was Friday after 31 years with the department.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

She’s made a career out of fighting small-town crime with Bainbridge PD.

After spending 31 years with the Bainbridge Island Police Department – nearly half her life – Patti Ritchie has some stories to tell.

Yet she has no idea what she’s going to say at her retirement party on Tuesday.

“I’ve never been on that side of the tale,” she said. “I’m usually the one who gets to roast other people. I’ve usually been the perpetrator, not the victim.”

Ritchie began her career with the BIPD at age 24 as a parking officer. Then followed stints as patrol officer, office manager, acting chief for three months in 1988, crime prevention officer, evidence officer and a final, 18-month position as administrative assistant.

Of all her ins and outs in such varied capacities, her work on the streets of Winslow ranks highest.

“I was just in the community all the time,” she said.

A bar fight at a tavern, in what is now the Village shopping center, set the stage for Ritchie’s favorite story from those patrol officer days. Accompanied by an officer-in-training, she swung in front of the building, jumped out of the car and high-tailed it in, assuming her partner was right beside her.

Inside, she found herself alone and surrounded by an unruly crowd.

Scanning the perimeter, she finally saw her partner, a man of slight build, near the door. And she watched as one of the regulars picked him up bodily, deposited him on the other side of the door, and locked him out.

“And I hear him out there knocking on the door with his night stick,” she said. “’Police...police...’”

“Stan, where were you?’” she asked him later. Her partner, it seems, had gotten his nightstick caught in the radar cables on the way out of the car.

Ritchie, a second-generation islander, patrolled the streets of Winslow with just three other officers back when town was “little Winslow” instead of the City of Bainbridge Island, and when the only backup was the North Kitsap deputy – who might or might not make it in time to assist with any given incident.

On the other hand, Ritchie says the elements that characterized the city’s crime in the late 1970s were different from the weapons, drugs and physical violence that officers see today. If misdeeds like theft, mailbox bashing and other malicious mischief can be dubbed “small-town,” Winslow’s variety fit the bill.

“You knew everyone,” Ritchie said. “You knew all their little Achilles heels.”

Familial leverage, for example, played a large role in job effectiveness. At the beginning, Ritchie actually found it difficult to write traffic tickets because “every one I wrote was for my mother’s friend.”

When a frequent inebriate – “we honest-to-God, just like Mayberry, had a town drunk” – got out of hand, Ritchie said no justice system in the world was as effective as his wife, waiting at home.

And she neutralized yet another bar fight at the same tavern by telling a participant that his mother “was going to be really, really upset” when she found out what he’d been up to.

“Those were the good old days,” she said. “Most everything could be handled without an arrest.

“I feel sorry now for police officers now because they have to be so cognizant of the courts. It almost binds them from doing the things that would be most effective.”

Ritchie spent her final week training successor Lezlie Arntz, formerly of the city’s Public Works department.

At the top of the list was prepping Arntz for the irreverent, sometimes gallows humor that Ritchie has shared with members of the department over the years.

“My sense of humor scares the chief sometimes, and he’s getting more and more worried because he’s not sure what’s going to come out of my mouth in the next couple of days. I know he’s just been lying awake thinking, ‘What is she going to say?’”

As Ritchie looks ahead to her first job in the private sector, as a project manager for the Seattle sign company Doty & Associates, she admits that she doesn’t like change.

She said her kids often accuse her of never leaving the island, to which she retorts that she just went to Home Depot the other weekend.

Yet, she’s opening herself to new possibilities. And when her partner Jeanie LeMaster takes retirement in 10 years, Ritchie said they’ll “take a look at the checkbook and see if we need to keep going, or if we can, as they say, get the hell out of Dodge.”

“I’ve given about all I can give to this place. I love it, I love the people, I love my co-workers. And it’s a difficult place to leave, because in law enforcement, once you leave, you’re gone. Once you’re out of the family, you don’t belong anymore.

“I love my guys,” she said. “I’m going to miss them.”

*************

Happy trails

The Bainbridge Island Police Department and other city staff will honor Patti Ritchie at a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at Council Chambers, City Hall. The public is welcome. For information, call 842-5211.

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