Longtime Washougal cop says goodbye

Jon Cotton retires after 35 years in law enforcement

(Contributed photo courtesy of Kate Tierney) Washougal Police Chief Ron Mitchell (left) presents Officer Jon Cotton (right) with a lifesaving award during a Nov. 20 ceremony, at Cotton’s retirement reception. Mitchell commended Cotton for saving the life of a suicidal woman who had jumped into the frigid Columbia River in October 2016.

A lifelong Washougal resident has retired after a 35-year career with the Washougal Police Department.

Jon Cotton, 59, worked his last day on Nov. 19. Current and former co-workers, supervisors, Washougal city officials and Camas police officers attended a retirement reception for Cotton on Nov. 20.

Cotton spent seven years as a Washougal reserve officer before being hired as a paid officer in February 1990.

Former Washougal Police Sgt. Brad Chicks retired in November 2017.

Chicks’ 35-year career in law enforcement included 34 years working for the Washougal Police Department (WPD).

“He is probably one of the finest, most dedicated, professional officers I had the privilege to work with,” Chicks said of Cotton. “The city is losing probably one of its finest officers.”

During an awards ceremony, WPD Chief Ron Mitchell presented Cotton with an award for saving the life of a suicidal woman who had jumped into the frigid Columbia River in October 2016. Cotton talked the woman into grabbing a lifesaving ring and then pulled her 20 feet across the water to the Port of Camas-Washougal breakwater dock.

The rescue was the second time Cotton had received a commendation for saving a life during his 35-year career with the WPD.

Reflecting on his law enforcement career, Cotton said he had fond memories of his coworkers and the citizens of Washougal.

“It has always been rewarding to find missing children, assist with medical calls and solve critical cases,” Cotton said.

A 1977 Washougal High School graduate, Cotton said working as a police officer in his hometown came with its share of difficulties — including having to arrest a classmate, a friend and, once, a relative.

But, he added, there were times when his familiarity with the area and its residents proved to have positive results.

“When I was first hired on as a full-time employee, the police department only had six employees, which included the chief of police,” Cotton said. “Most of the time, I was the only officer on duty, and I knew if I needed help somebody would step up to assist me.”

Cotton said his father, Eugene Cotton — Clark County Sheriff in the 1970s — was a big influence in his career. After serving as sheriff, Eugene Cotton was the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs for 15 years. Cotton said his mother, Irene Cotton, had her hands full working as a stay-at-home mom with five sons.

Cotton worked at Danielson’s Thriftway from 1976 to 1990. He graduated from the state-certified Clark County Reserve Academy in 1983, and from the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, in Burien, Washington, in 1990.

Former WPD Sgt. Kim Yamashita, now the city manager for Sandy, Oregon, worked with Cotton for one year when he was a reserve officer and for more than 16 years while he was a full-time officer in Washougal.

Yamashita recalls riding with Cotton and getting dispatched to a dog stuck in a fence.

“We both envisioned a poodle and a white picket fence,” she said. “It was actually a German shorthaired Pointer that attempted to jump over a six-foot chain link fence.”

Yamashita said one of the dog’s back legs got stuck on one side of the fence, and the rest of the dog went over the fence. She held the weight of the dog up, while Cotton used wire cutters to cut the leg out of the fence.

During the rescue, the dog peed and pooped.

“Everything that goes up, comes down of course, which means for the rest of the shift, we kept telling each other they stunk,” Yamashita said.

“We still laugh about it today,” she added. “It’s what makes police work so awesome. You never know what you’re going to get. Jon is a great man and a great friend, and he was an awesome partner to go to calls with. We always managed to laugh.”

Cotton’s retirement plans include helping his wife, Brenda, with her dog-grooming business. The couple has three grown children and two grandchildren.

Meanwhile, the WPD is seeking a lateral police officer with a certification of completion from an accredited state police academy as approved by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. Applicants who are not certified in Washington must complete the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission Equivalency Academy. The full-time position will pay $5,722 to $6,635 monthly.

The WPD’s newest hire, Greg Sulzinger, served in the United States Coast Guard and is attending the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, in Burien. There are also two entry-level recruits at the academy, and they are expected to graduate in mid-December.

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