Retired Lakewood police chief Bret Farrar, 59, dies at Arizona home

Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar talks to reporters on Nov. 30, 2009, in Lakewood, Wash., the day after four Lakewood officers were fatally shot as they sat in a coffee shop in Parkland.
Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar talks to reporters on Nov. 30, 2009, in Lakewood, Wash., the day after four Lakewood officers were fatally shot as they sat in a coffee shop in Parkland. AP file, 2009

A couple years into retirement and eight years after leading the Lakewood Police Department through one of its worst tragedies, Bret Farrar has died.

Surrounded by friends and family, the 59-year-old former chief died Tuesday night at his Arizona home, the department said Wednesday.

He’d suffered from cancer before, and had battled another round of the disease for several months.

Farrar retired in 2015, and said personal challenges were part of that decision.

“Without a doubt, it has been a long, eventful and amazing ride, and while I’m sad to see it all end, I also know that the time has come to focus on my family and all the things we’ve been dreaming about doing for so many years,” he wrote in his email to the department.

Farrar had had open heart surgery the year before and survived bladder cancer in 2010. His father had recently died, his sister died in 2012 and his wife was struggling with breast cancer when he left the department.

His plans for retirement were to travel and move to Arizona, he told The News Tribune.

Farrar started as a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy in 1988, and joined the Lakewood force in 2004, the year the department was formed. He became chief in 2008.

The next year, the department lost four of its own when Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards were shot and killed Nov. 29 in a Parkland coffee shop.

Examples of Farrar’s leadership, following the tragedy:

He brought the whole department with him for his first public address, and he was the first person to place an order at the coffee shop when it reopened.

The union that represents the state’s troopers thought enough of Farrar’s leadership that it asked the governor to give him Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste’s job in 2013, after Farrar recruited 10 troopers to Lakewood, who said they liked working for him.

“He’s the type of guy who would lead from the bottom up,” the union president at the time, Tommie Pillow, told The News Tribune.

But Lakewood was where Farrar stayed, until he retired.

He told The News Tribune after he announced his retirement: “Being a chief is awesome and the easiest job I’ve ever had. The hard job is the one the officers are doing out there at 3 in the morning, with things going on and making the right decisions and having to live with it.”

Friend and Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell said, “If I had something I needed to discuss with him or confide in him, he was a guy I could talk to.”

That included supporting each other through departmental tragedy. Ramsdell was there for Farrar in 2009 when the Lakewood officers were killed, and Farrar reached out to the Tacoma chief when Tacoma Officer Jake Gutierrez was killed last year.

“He was retired and he gave me a call,” Ramsdell said Wednesday. “That says a lot about his character and about how he cared about our law enforcement family here in Pierce County.”

Farrar also had a sense of humor.

County Council Chairman and former Lakewood Mayor Doug Richardson remembered once visiting Farrar in the hospital, and finding he’d smuggled in a Frappuccino.

Meanwhile, Farrar’s wife, Cindy Salazar, was boxing up their house, because the heart procedure he was having coincided with a move. Farrar was able to laugh about the rotten timing, too.

“They had to be out of the house that weekend,” Richardson said. “He thought it was appropriate to check himself into the hospital to avoid all that.”

On a serious note, Richardson said Farrar was an exceptional husband and father.

He’s survived by his wife and adult daughter. City officials said the family was asking for privacy Wednesday.

“As much as Bret meant to the police department and the city of Lakewood, it pales in comparison to what he meant to his family,” Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro said in a statement. “They were extremely close and I can’t imagine the loss they are feeling.”

Jean and Coleman Harris knew Farrar had a daughter when he investigated their teenager daughter’s homicide in 1997. They remember him as a relentless detective.

And they remember his big, bear hugs.

“If he faced bumps along the way, that didn’t slow him down,” Coleman Harris said.

They bonded through the investigation, and Farrar ended up visiting them at their Washington, D.C.-area home.

That sort of humanity showed early in Farrar’s career.

Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer remembered working closely with Farrar after the 2009 shooting, and how the chief supported his officers.

But he also remembers a 1992 episode of the TV program “COPS,” which shows Farrar, then a sheriff’s deputy, and a colleague buying groceries for a family in need.

They had been sent to do a child welfare check, and found a dad caring for five kids by himself in a messy home.

The deputies gave the man an hour to clean up the place the best he could, and said they’d be back to check.

Then the pair headed to the store, and the camera shows Farrar smiling big as they left with a full shopping cart, headed to surprise the family.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell