ILWACO - Larry Clark has worked for the Pacific County sheriff's department the past 14 years and now that he is retired he says with his ever-present smile, "Being a police officer was the best education I could ever get. There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't learn something. You have to be a mediator, psychologist, medic, counselor, and yes even a cop sometimes. I loved every minute of it."
Clark, who was a full-time officer for almost six of those 14 years and a reserve the remainder of the time, relates, "I always felt the one-on-one contact I had with people was the key to being a successful officer, especially the invaluable relationships I developed with young people."
Clark explains, "I had a reserve officer with me one night and about 2 a.m. on a run back from the South Bend jail he said he was amazed at how our decisions as police could so profoundly change a person's life. I always tried to use discretion in what I did. I wanted to protect the community, make it safe; but I also wanted to be fair. For sure I was also firm when I needed to be."
Serving in the Army's 82nd Airborne helped whet Clark's interest in security. "I graduated from Lincoln High in Portland June 4, 1959, and June 6, I was at Fort Ord. I served in Germany until 1962 while the Berlin Wall was going up." After coming home Clark drove truck for the next 34 years, five of which were on runs from Portland to Chicago.
"In 1968 I became a reserve officer for the Washougal force and I did that and drove truck for several years," he explains. Family and work obligations got him out of police work for a couple of decades while he and wife Judy helped raise 10 children. "We had mine, hers, ours and a couple of my sister's after we lost her at 25 to cancer, but the families all seemed to merge just fine. We now have 28 grandkids and 10 great-grandchildren," Clark says with pride.
His son, Ron Clark, is Pacific County Undersheriff. "People ask how it was working for your son and I tell them he was taught well so he was a good boss," Larry chuckles. "Seriously Ron is very good about separating work from fun." Ironically the first physical confrontation Larry had as a Pacific County reserve he and Ron responded with an arrest following a shoot out and just a couple of weeks before Larry retired he and his son once again teamed up to physically capture a suspect. "When we are out hunting I'm still dad, but when we're at work, he was in charge," Larry explains.
Clark says he had over 5,300 arrests and figures he responded to two to three times that many situations as a back-up officer. "I remember one welfare check when I had to 'forcibly enter' a home with the daughter's permission and I was sure the lady was deceased after I time and again spoke to her in a loud voice. As I shook her she jumped up from her bed and yelled at me. I'm not sure which one of us was more shocked," he laughs. "Another welfare check the lady got mad at me and told me she'd never received welfare in her life."
A close call Clark had a close call on Highway 103 when responding to an emergency. "I was driving fast to a code call and at Andersen's Resort everyone had gotten out of the way. I had my siren, lights and wig-wags on, but all of a sudden a guy in a Suburban pulling a 30-foot trailer turned right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and swerved and fortunately I just scraped him. A split second either way and I could have T-boned him. That's when you know our training has paid off."
Clark is the president of the reserve officers in Pacific County. "We've had as many as 20 and as few as four reserves. I believe in quality and not just quantity. Sheriff (John) Didion is very good about training everyone to the highest standards."
He says, "I remember the academy we had here in 2000. I hadn't been in a classroom in over 40 years and it was tough, but I finished second in the class. A few weeks later we went to Kennewick for a marine academy where you are an officer, but in a boat instead of a car, and that was easy." Clark adds, "I hope people appreciate the exceptional officers we have here."
One bugaboo of Clark and most officers was paperwork. "Sometimes people would ask if I didn't have anything better to do than pull them over for a traffic violation. They didn't realize it took me 15 minutes to cite them and 45 minutes to log, narrate, create an affidavit, list other involvements and then computerize the arrest back at the station. They would ask why we sat at the beach approaches and looked like we were just shooting the bull. We might have looked like we were just talking, but 90 percent of the time we were sharing police information with each other and that's the key to being effective."
Tough situations One of the most difficult situations for Clark was dealing with death and serious injuries on a regular basis. "It may seem like we are blase about death and injuries, but we had to deal with them in a professional manner. We care deeply, notifying next of kin is the absolute toughest thing I ever had to do, but we have to somehow not take it personally, even when it is a friend or someone we know that is the victim."
Clark says, "I'm not sure the average citizen realizes the criminal element that we deal with as police officers here." He relates, "Of course there was the time there was a burglary and I was also responding to an intoxicated person on a bicycle. Another officer was taking photos of the scene so I knew the suspected drunk and went to his house. I asked him if he knew why I was there and he said, 'Yes, I should have never helped (suspect number two) rob that house.' That was one of my easier cases to solve."
Clark states, "My son always says being a police officer is the greatest show on earth. It can also be the most gratifying when someone thanks you for giving them a break or talking with them a few days after they have been arrested and seeing if they have learned a lesson for their own safety and for others."
Now that he is retired, Larry and Judy plan to travel more. The couple has visited every continent except Antarctica and have hundreds of items from dozens of foreign countries in their Surfside home and "every one has a story behind it." By next September they want to see the three or four states in the U.S. that they have not visited.
"I like to hunt and fish and do some woodworking including making doll furniture. The Peninsula is a place I got used to real easy after driving a semi through Portland, Seattle and Chicago all those years," Clark smiles. As for his future he wants to continue to volunteer as a reserve and even do ride-alongs from time to time. "We had over 480 kids get finger-printed during one event and I'd like to help get more neighborhood block watches started, that sort of thing."
Clark concludes by saying, "I drew my weapon too many times to count, but I never had to pull the trigger and I always wore my bullet-proof vest. There were many nights when I came home and gave Judy a big hug and thanked her for being there for me after a tough shift. But you remember the good times and I loved it."
Larry Clark replaced Ray Harrison three years ago after Harrison passed away suddenly from a medical problem and as of the first of the year Paul Jacobsen has replaced Clark in serving the Surfside Homeowner's Association area for the Pacific County Sheriff's Department.