Patrol Cpl. John Pritchard always knew he’d one day get involved with law enforcement. That was after he got over his initial stint of wanting to be a bus driver. After that desire faded, at the age of 5, he settled on joining the police force.
He stayed committed to those young dreams, having spent his whole life in some kind of law enforcement role — the longest being 35 years of service at the Mercer Island Police Department.
He began in 1984, at age 31. Last month, Pritchard retired at the age of 66 and the city said goodbye to one of its longest-serving employees. The city threw him a barbeque cookout send-off in honor of his time at Mercer.
“I really appreciated John’s approach to law enforcement,” said police Chief Ed Holmes. “Not only did he have institutional knowledge … but he had direct positive connections with citizens and business owners, many of whom reached out to attend his retirement party.”
Commander Jeff Magnan said Pritchard went out of his way to mentor new officers, who he affectionately referred to as “kids,” in the ways of law enforcement and interacting with citizens. He would speak of how things used to be. Fellow officers even called him “Pappy.”
Others at the police department agreed.
“When I first started my career at MIPD, John was always eager to teach me new things and had a unique approach to police work,” corporal Todd Roggenkamp said. “His positive attitude and good work ethic were very appreciated. I will miss how he called everybody ‘Kid’ even if they were over 50.”
During Pritchard’s career, he spent time in the military police and as a campus cop at the University of Washington. He began working narcotics at UW, but it wasn’t long before he moved on to a position at Mercer Island PD.
At the department is where he got his start in investigative work — delving into narcotics, criminal and finance investigations.
Pritchard worked with the Eastside Narcotics Task Force, and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies including U.S. Customs, DEA, IRS, FBI, Secret Service and NW High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
He worked on local, regional and international investigations and received numerous awards as a result. One of Pritchard’s final cases resulted in more than $400,000 in asset forfeiture funds being distributed to the MIPD. They were used to purchase tools and equipment for the department.
Of all the investigative work, Pritchard found the most amusement from the “financial stuff,” he said. He worked to track dirty money (cash obtained unlawfully) that was hidden in insurance policies, cars, bank accounts and investments. Sometimes organizations would ship money out of the country. After he found the money, he would take it away.
“The mental challenge was the fun part,” Pritchard said. “There’s nothing better than to find some guy selling a lot of cocaine, find his money and take it away. He can sit there and play the bigshot until we come and take all the toys he bought with that drug money — houses, cars, boats, you name it.”
But one of his bigger cases wasn’t even a money case. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had recovered a gun involved in a homicide on Vancouver Island, B.C. In 1999, they reached out to Pritchard and asked about the gun. He traced it back to a gun store theft in Olympia where about 187 guns were stolen. A short time later, another call came in about another gun recovered and then a third call.
Pritchard began looking into the details and tracked the firearms to a group smuggling marijuana, cocaine and guns across the Canadian border. As a result of the investigation, 13 people were indicted and 132 of the 187 guns recovered in Canada.
“That case was the most challenging,” Pritchard said, adding that while they arrested 13 smugglers they never did prove who committed the Olympia burglary.
There won’t be much investigative work for Pritchard anymore. In his retirement he has big plans of woodworking and just being a grandpa, now that he has free time to give.
“I won’t be rushing on my days off because now everyday’s a day off,” he said.
But he’ll miss the department, a “good place to work” where he discovered his love of investigative work.
Looking back, he only needed five words to sum up his time in law enforcement: “I’ve had a good career.”