On the beach at Ocean Shores, there’s a pretty good metaphor for the career and civic contributions of recently retired Police Chief Mike Styner. It’s a big rock, the kind you can count on to always be there, no matter how wild the wind or savage the sea.
In recognition of his more than three decades of being that steady rock for the North Coast community, Styner has been named The Daily World’s Police Officer of the Year. He will be celebrated, along with other honorees, at the Citizen of the Year Banquet on May 11 at the Hoquiam Elks Club.
The Police Officer of the Year is presented each year in honor of Hoquiam Police Officer Donald Burke, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1980.
Since The Daily World started Citizen of the Year in 1969, one constant that has emerged is “the people who have been honored … do what they do with no thought of recognition for their actions. Typically, they’re all but allergic to the spotlight,” the article calling for nominations stated.
That certainly applies to Styner. Told he had been named this year’s honoree, Styner said simply, “You’re kidding!” Later, at his home on the Humptulips River, he shook his head and said, “I’m still flabbergasted by all this!”
In nominating him for Police Officer of the Year, Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers wrote, “Mike Styner has been a cornerstone for law enforcement on the North Beach for decades.”
“For all the years I have worked with and been a friend of Mike, I know he would never ask for or even want this recognition,” Myers noted. “But Chief Styner has earned this award by his decades of dedicated, professional and unflappable service to the citizens of Ocean Shores, North Beach and Grays Harbor County.”
Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler said that when she took office in 2011 — as the city grappled with political upheaval and financial disaster triggered by the recession — Styner was a solid, steadying figure. He was “the senior, non-elected city official at that time with 31 years, had accepted the position as Fire Chief (as well as Police Chief) earlier that year, served with full delegated authority as back-up to the Mayor/CEO of the city, and knew the history, municipal code, citizens, and city/county personnel,” she said.
Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott noted that as lieutenant, Styner was OSPD’s second-in-command for nearly 20 years. With him in that position, “it became a very well respected and professional police department and remains so to this day.”
“He’s been the one constant that the city of Ocean Shores, and in particular the police department, has had for more than three decades,” Scott said. While almost everything has changed, “he’s been the common denominator and the rock that’s provided a steady hand.”
Aberdeen Police Chief Robert Torgerson said, “Mike is an outstanding chief of police … dedicated to the service of his community. It has been a privilege to work with such a professional.”
On March 31, Styner served the final day of a law enforcement and public service career that began in the 1970s and spanned over 40 years across parts of five decades, all of it in Grays Harbor County.
Along the way, he stressed that his officers be friendly, respectful and helpful, and use the minimum level of force needed to serve the goals of public safety and law enforcement. And he led by example — in 40 years, he never fired his weapon in the line of duty. The upside of public safety is one of the things he liked about being a small town cop. “Ocean Shores is the type of community where an officer has a lot of opportunities for heartwarming moments,” he said.
His proudest achievement is simply, “somebody with my background, working my way up through the ranks and … serving the community for 10 years as chief of police,” he said. “I was a Hoquiam born and raised kid (who) never spent a day in college in my life.”
Shortly after graduating from Hoquiam High School, Class of ‘73, Styner went to work at Mayr Bros. Logging, on the night shift, in the grease pit, servicing log trucks.
“I worked with an older gentleman, a grumpy old guy, but what a wealth of knowledge. He taught me all kinds of stuff,” the chief recalled. He picked up on vehicle electrical systems and worked his way up to journeyman diesel mechanic, making darned good money for a 22-year-old.
But, he explained, “from the time I was a kid, I had an interest in law enforcement, police officers, and what they did.” He was still working his regular job when he became a volunteer reserve deputy with the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s office in 1976. Within a year, he had become a “solo-qualified reserve officer,” and had begun a 40-year friendship with Scott.
In early 1979 he volunteered as a reserve officer with the Ocean Shores Police Department, and on Dec. 6, 1980, he became a full-time officer. “I took a hell of a pay cut when I decided what I wanted to go for a full-time job,” he said with a gentle grin.
As a canine handler for the next six years, Styner occasionally worked again with Scott, who joked that they both enjoyed “being chew toys for our dogs.”
“Rick was a lot of fun to work with,” Styner recalled, and could be “quite a comical character sometimes.” The serious side of their work showed “he’s the kind of guy, when things go to hell in a hand basket, you want him there.”
After a year as an OSPD detective, he tested for and won the lieutenant’s position, in 1988. On Feb. 13, 2007, he was appointed chief of police, replacing Rich McEachin, who became city manager.
Three mayors later, as the city faced severe financial difficulties, he agreed to add fire chief to his job description. “That was supposed to last for a year or so,” he laughed, instead of the five years it actually went on. “Other than definitely being spread too thin to do both of those jobs in the manner they should be done, I really enjoyed working with the firefighters. They’re really dedicated guys.”
For much of the way, the chief has had his own rock, his wife of almost 24 years, Chris. One of the ways she coped with the never-ending demands of his career was making “the very wise decision not to listen to a scanner at home,” she said.
“He was very dedicated to his job,” she said. Addressing her husband, she continued, “That’s one of the reasons I never worried about you that much, because I knew you knew your job and you’re smart enough to stay safe.”
Commenting on his years of service, Dingler said, “It is difficult to encompass what Mike Styner has meant to this city.” As if police and fire chief were not enough, he has also worn the hats of temporary city manager and fill-in mayor, insurance coordinator, front line patrol officer, ambulance driver, IT consultant and more.
“I came to know him as an extremely valuable asset to our efforts as well as a reliable source of information and advice,” Dingler said.
with “an ability to present facts clearly and impartially, so that we are able to make rational, informed decisions.” Styner also connected with people on a human level. “The Chief … helped citizens through some tough personal times. He and his officers saw them through some of the worst days of their lives with grace and compassion,” Dingler said.
She added that he “put the welfare of the citizens of Ocean Shores first, sometimes to the detriment of his own health,” and “was not just generous with his time for citizens, staff and City governance, but gave generously to local efforts, always showed up when asked or needed, and frequently gave up some of his banked sick leave to employees whose sick leave had run out because of personal emergencies. These were not just police employees but employees throughout the City.
“Chief Styner’s focus was always what was best for the citizens and the city. He was a loyal, dedicated city fixture for over 36 years. He will be missed.”