Retired Seattle Police Officers Association

Last Ring

Take a moment to remember our friends and associates who have passed.

Tom Witkowski #2318, retired Seattle Police Lieutenant passed away on November 8, 2017 at the age of 78.

Tom was born and raised in Wyandotte, Michigan. He attended Saint Stanislaus Grade School and Roosevelt High. Immediately after high school, he joined the Marine Corps in 1956 to get away from “Motor City” and the auto industry.

In the Corps, he was the “Honor Man” of his boot camp training class. While going through Radar Aviation Training in Memphis, Tennessee, before being assigned to a helicopter squadron, he rescued four families out of a burning apartment building he was staying in. Later, while assigned to his duty station as an Aviation Radar Technician, he joined the base’s Rifle Drill Team. By the end of his enlistment, he attained the rank of sergeant. He was discharged in early 1959. A few weeks later, he married Barbara – his wife of 57 years.

They moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tom got a job with Bowmar Industries which manufactures aerospace products for the military. Three years later, with three young boys to feed and poor hunting in Indiana, they decided to move west to Wyoming or Eastern Washington to better hunting grounds. But they missed their stops and ended up in Seattle in late 1962. Tom quickly landed a job at Kirkman Pharmaceutical, making pills on a compressing machine for $200 per month. He soon got bored and even more broke, so after two months, he applied to the Seattle Police Department. He was hired in January 14, 1963. The starting pay was almost $300 more than the pill business.

He graduated in Class 46 and went to Patrol East Central Precinct. His partner on Car 129 was Roy Wedlund #2154. This district was full of ex-convicts. It ran from 7th Avenue to Broadway and Seneca to Roy Streets. At the beginning of one shift, they got an APB on a murder suspect out of Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, driving a car with a 6-foot-tall radio antenna on it. While going up Madison to their beat, they spotted the suspect vehicle in front of George’s Tops Restaurant. The suspect had just parked. Tom jumped out, pushed his revolver through the window to arrest the murderer. Then they impounded the car to the Processing Room as evidence in the homicide. The Multnomah Detective did not retrieve the car for several weeks. So, the defense attorney subpoenaed every person who had signed into the Processing Room attempting to contaminate the car as evidence. About eighteen detectives and cadets had to appear for a trial that lasted a couple of weeks. Every night after court – out to the Portland bars. After drinking, Roy talked Tom into the high roller coaster at Janzen Beach. He’d never been on one, but too drunk to refuse, the challenge was on. Roy knew the operator from the 1962 World’s Fair’s Fun Forest, so Tom got the ride special. After his screaming stopped at the end of the ride, and between barfing sessions, Tom threatened to get even with Roy.

The next month, they were investigating an accident involving reckless driving. The violator, during the interview, claimed to have several police friends and dropped Tom and Roy’s names. They told the violator to read their name tags. When he did, all he said was “Oh s#@*!” They asked where he got their names. He replied that he’d read about them in a news article about a murder arrest here and the trial in Portland.

In 1967, Tom transferred to Solos for a year, then to the Tac Squad. While Tom was in the Tac Squad, a serial stick-up artist was terrorizing the local banks. Several of the banks hired off-duty officers. Tom was one. However, his branch wanted him in plain clothes, posing as a trainee teller. So, Tom went to work with a little Hi Standard two-shot .22 magnum derringer. He had taken this gun off a criminal that he arrested and helped convict. In those days, the officers could keep the criminals’ guns after the judicial process was finished. Tom was so good at faking being a teller, that he was given his own teller’s window. And sure enough, the robber came to Tom’s window, displaying a pistol while saying “Give me all you got.” Tom replied, “Yes, sir.”, pulled out the derringer and gave him both barrels. The suspect collapsed, then looked up and said, “Nice shooting!” Tom also got to keep his gun (a 9mm Browning Hi Power.)

He was promoted to Sergeant in 1970 and sent to Communications. Director Charlie Hill #1674 had him write the manual and procedure policies for the new Communications Center on the 2nd Floor of the PSB. He was there for four years before he could arrange to escape to the detectives. In four more years, he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1978.

As a lieutenant, he was assigned to Patrol, Personnel, and finally back to the Investigations Bureau. As the Burglary/Theft Lieutenant, he helped engineer the transfer of Jim Dyment #3576 from Patrol to Investigations, though Tom had to wait until the Chief, the Assistant Chief, the Major, and the Burglary Captain were all on vacation or out of town to navigate the transfer through.

Tom was in the Coast Guard Reserves the entire time he was on the Department. In fact, his old Patrol partner Roy Wedlund, got him to join. The two were TDYed to the Navy to escort the USS Ohio Trident Submarine into Bangor sub base. This was the first sub to go to the new missile sub base, so protesters from all over the world threatened to block the Ohio’s passage. Pretty soon, Tom and Roy’s experience with rioters and crowd control was recognized, so they oversaw the escort mission. Jerry Sampont #3193, another Coastie with Vietnam riverine experience, was put in charge of training. On the day of the mission, protesters were in large and small boats. The Coast Guard boats had fire monitors When the protesters tried to block and board the transiting Ohio, they were hosed down with the monitors. Some were even knocked into Puget Sound. The ships from Australia and Canada were impounded, the crews arrested. The Ohio was completely secure and safe during the transit. The successful mission made the national news. Tom and Roy were commended by the Navy. But the Coast Guard brass dinged them for not wearing their Coastie hats during the kerfuffle – no good job goes unpunished.

Tom retired from the Coast Guard in 1991 after 17 years of service, plus three years in the Corps. The next year, he retired after 29 ½ years of service with SPD.

During retirement, he became the hunting and the fishing sportsman he dreamed of becoming. He even became a hunting and fishing guide in Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska. On March 22, 2008, he and Barb won the State Lottery’s $1.1 million jackpot. They bought two ranches – one in Montana (320 acres) and one in Eastern Washington (120 acres.) They are wildlife refuge centers. He also started the perpetual drink fund for RAP where a free drink is given at each meeting to the member with the lucky sign-in number.

Tom is survived by his wife, Barb; and sons, Mike, Jeffrey, and Nick.

Dan Oliver
Executive Secretary
Seattle Pension Office