Worthy of His Name
Story and photos by Rodger Nichols
The Dalles chief of police brings local experience to the job
When Tom Worthy applied for the position of chief of The Dalles Police Department last year, he had a decided advantage. He had been with the Oregon State Police and stationed in The Dalles office for five years. He knew the city and its people well.
Tom grew up in Pullman, Washington. “I was literally born on the campus of Washington State University,” he says. “I grew up there through high school, played sports and did a lot of outdoor activities with my friends.”
After high school, Tom attended Eastern Oregon University. He played on the Mountaineers’ baseball team for two years. A roommate, whose father was in the Oregon State Police, told Tom about the OSP’s cadet program, which allowed people younger than 21 to dip their toes in law enforcement. The program offered pay as well as experience.
“I always knew that I wanted to be in law enforcement,” Tom says. He was accepted into the program, and worked occasionally through college. After two years at Eastern, he transferred to Washington State. He graduated with a double major in criminal justice and sociology. “A former roommate was living in central Mexico, and I wanted to learn Spanish,” Tom says. “I moved there for six months, which is where I met my wife. Then I moved back and got hired with the state police.”
Tom’s first duty assignment was in The Dalles.
“That’s how I got to know the community and really just fell in love with it,” he says. “The town is so supportive and just such a great community.” After five years, he moved up the ranks, working at Government Camp, Portland and then general headquarters in Salem. He concluded his state police career as a major, running the Public Safety Services Bureau.
“We had a $50 million budget and several hundred employees,” Tom says. “We had civilian staff, dispatchers and other people working in information technology and criminal justice information services division, which is how we get our warrants
and protective orders.”
During his time in Salem, the state police—which had previously only used paper files—adopted an electronic records management system.
“It gave me sort of a deep dive into technology and project management,” Tom says, explaining the state police were able to install mobile computers into the entire fleet. “Now the troopers are as modern as everybody else and have a new dispatching system as well.” Tom was in graduate school at the University of San Diego finishing a master’s degree when the opportunity for the chief’s job in The Dalles opened.
“I just couldn’t think of a better fit for myself at the time,” he says. “I still knew people in the community, and it’s nice not having to learn where every call is because you kind of already have an idea.”
Tom celebrated his first year in the post at the end of April.
He acknowledges there has been a lot of concern about the growing number of homeless people in the community.
“A lot of these problems are deep, and we didn’t get here overnight,” he says. “We’re not going to solve it overnight, either. But what we can do is operate in the Oregon way and in The Dalles way, which is to work together to solve our problems.”
Tom praises the work of the department.
“This city supports the police department,” he says. “I can tell you that without reservation. That is not an accident, and it is earned. Our officers, our sergeants and our supervisors go out every day and earn that level of trust. Trust is hard to get and
easy to lose.
“We don’t have any perfect people working here, and we’re going to make mistakes. But if we make mistakes, where our heart and our head is in the right place and something still goes wrong, we will own it and we’ll correct it where we can. What we won’t tolerate is any lack of ethics or any intentional misconduct.
“The support of the community is like a relationship. If you put in the time and effort, it’s going to be good. And if you start taking things for granted, it’s going to be a problem.”
He says there are ways the public can help.
“Be our partner in keeping this community safe,” Tom says. “There are a lot of cameras in this town. Oftentimes, when we go to get that footage, they’re either too busy to go get it for us or they don’t know how to work their system or the camera was down. If you’re going to have a system, know how to use it and provide that evidence for us.
“We can’t do it alone, and we can’t do every single thing that some people want us to, but we’re going to be responsive and we’re going to operate within the law. So don’t hesitate to call.
“I’ve heard people say they saw something that looked suspicious, but they didn’t want to bother us. It’s never a bother. I have a saying: ‘You call, we haul.’ Please call us. We’re going to come right out as long as we can. But also, please understand if it’s a nonemergency call, we’re going to prioritize the emergencies first.”
In his off hours, Tom enjoys what he calls “family stuff.”
“I like to mow my grass, and my edges are perfectly straight,” he says. “I’m pretty proud of that. I like to spend time with my kids and family. My daughter is an elite gymnast, and we spend a lot of time pursuing that. And every now and then, I like to throw a hook in the water. I wouldn’t say I’m a great angler, but I sure like to try.”