Dresker to retire as OHPD chief

The man who leads the long arm of the law in Oak Harbor is hanging up his hat.

The man who leads the long arm of the law in Oak Harbor is hanging up his hat.

Police Chief Kevin Dresker announced that he is retiring at the end of the month, following a long career in law enforcement that includes seven years at the head of the Oak Harbor Police Department.

Capt. Tony Slowik, a longtime member of the department, will serve as interim police chief.

Dresker emphasized that the timing of his announcement has nothing to do with the election results. He said he originally planned to leave this summer, but Mayor Bob Severns pleaded with him to stay longer. He and his wife have plans to winter in a warmer region of the country.

It’s been a lively and sometimes challenging seven years for Dresker.

Severns said he inherited a “broken police department” rife with in-fighting when he came into office eight years ago. He spent six months interviewing members of the force before firing the police chief. He said he hired Dresker to help fix the problems, and he was very pleased with the new chief’s success.

Dresker conceded that the “lack of cohesion” was a challenge.

“There were great people but a lack of structure to help them do their mission,” he said.

When he first started, Dresker emphasized organization within the department and setting best-practice standards. The department became accredited and developed a strategic plan for the first time.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “It’s been done with a lot of hard work from everyone in the organization.”

Dresker also made community engagement, communication and transparency priorities.

Dresker closed the aging Oak Harbor jail, which held people suspected of misdemeanor crimes, and reorganized jail staff. Two of the seven corrections officers were converted to police officer positions and others became support officers who transported inmates to other jails.

The chief lead the department during a time of national protests against police and efforts to defund departments. Dresker was outspoken in his support of officers and credited his department’s positive relationship with the community for the appreciation police have in Oak Harbor.

“I love the mission we perform,” he said. “It’s vital and noble.”

In addition, Dresker said he’s “a big believer in regionalization” and works with other departments in myriad ways, like taking part in regional SWAT and incident teams.

Island County Sheriff Rick Felici said Dresker has been a solid leader and a great resource for law enforcement in the region.

“His energy has been instrumental in building relationships with neighboring public service entities that have contributed to better service for the citizens of Island and Skagit County,” the sheriff said. “With 35+ years of service, he has served in roles ranging from patrol officer all the way to chief of police.”

Dresker was also an outspoken advocate for his department within city government. The police department’s budget grew under his leadership from about $5.5 million to $7 million. In addition to remodeling work, the department purchased a robot, a drone and a new armored truck. The department’s badges and patches were redesigned and new police cars have a black-and-white retro look.

The department grew from 26 to 29 commissioned officers during his tenure. Still, Dresker feels the department needs significantly more officers, and he will recommend that the department create several new positions after he leaves.

Dresker credits his staff and the mayor for his success.

“I could not have had a better boss,” he said. “He has left me alone to do what I need to do.”

Dresker started his career in law enforcement as an MP in the Army. He spent 28 years moving up the ranks in the Wenatchee Police Department and was a finalist for the chief position, but didn’t get it.

“I tell people that’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said, explaining that it ultimately led to him moving to Oak Harbor.