David LaSalata, the Puyallup Police Department’s newest hire, comes with a remarkable background: He’s a former middle-school science teacher in the Franklin Pierce School District and assistant football coach at Pacific Lutheran University.
“We all knew that this was a guy that we really needed to get to know,” said Capt. Scott Engle, who sat on the oral board that vetted LaSalata’s skills and background. “We want people who are leaders with good life experience and are well-rounded. When David came into the room, his down-to-earth approach was really attractive and we knew he had a potential to do great things. He is a guy who has phenomenal skill that will make a positive impact on the community.”
The 35-year-old LaSalata, who Engle said did exceptionally well at the police academy, graduated from the Criminal Justice Training Commission in Burien on Jan. 25. Following a rigorous application process, which included a written exam, an oral board, civil service commission review, chief’s interview, a comprehensive background check, psychological polygraph and medical examination, LaSalata was hired last August.
“Out of every 10 candidates, one or two make it through the process,” Engle said. “We make sure that we hire the best candidates. There is a lot we look at. You have to be able to juggle multiple priorities, be a great communicator, have impeccable honesty, courage and integrity.”
LaSalata graduated from PLU with a degree in exercise science and sports administration. He quickly picked up a job as an assistant football coach at the private university and coached for 12 years, following four years of playing on the team. While coaching, he earned his master’s degree in education at PLU.
LaSalata taught science from 2005 through this past summer.
In the years I was at PLU, (the football team) was a very service-oriented program.
David LaSalata, Puyallup police officer
“In the years I was at PLU, (the football team) was a very service-oriented program,” LaSalata said. “A lot former players under me that I coached went on to have careers at police departments.”
LaSalata’s wife, also an educator, wanted to step back and spend more time at home with their three children. LaSalata decided staying with education was not economically feasible for the family, and he always was curious about law enforcement. Last year he did a ride along with several agencies and decided on the Puyallup Police Department. He interviewed with the department last spring.
LaSalata is currently paired with a mentor officer and is in training for up to 16 weeks. His probation period ends 18 months following his hire date.
“So far the challenge of it has been the most enjoyable,” he said. “Getting to know the people that I’ve been working with has been really fun. It’s a complicated and complex job with a lot of moving parts. I enjoy the puzzle of it.”
For more than a decade, LaSalta worked with people and with parents both as an educator and a coach. In a lot ways, he said there is some overlap between what he did before and what he does now with the police department, with it being a service-oriented job.
“I’m talking to people and trying to help solve their problem,” he said.