Officer of the Month March 2004

Sheriff Mark Sterk

Spokane County (WA) Sheriff’s Office

Washington, DC—The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) has announced the selection of Sheriff Mark K. Sterk of the Spokane County (WA) Sheriff’s Office as its Officer of the Month for March 2004.
Mark Sterk’s adult life has been dedicated to pubic service. In 1974, after spending four years in the United States Marine Corps, Mark Sterk answered the Spokane Police Department’s call “for a few good men” and joined up. He served the Spokane P.D. for twenty years, after which he was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives, where he served as Vice-Chair of the Law and Justice Committee. In 1998, when many would have sought retirement, Mr. Sterk was elected Spokane County Sheriff. He has had an immeasurable impact on the lives of the people in his community, state and the nation.
Upon his election to Sheriff in 1998, Mark Sterk initiated the creation-along with the Washington State Police and the Spokane Police Department-of the Spokane Serial Homicide Task Force. The mission of the task force was to capture the serial killer who had been terrorizing the Spokane area for many years. As the deaths spanned an eight year period, a new computer program was developed to help track the enormous amount of information that poured in. However, as the death toll continued to rise and resources dwindled, many called for the dismantling of the Task Force. Instinctively, Sheriff Sterk knew that the months spent developing leads would ultimately pay off. Because he trusted his men and their dedication, on April 20, 2000, the three-year investigation into the serial murders of up to 18 women came to an end with the arrest of Robert Lee Yates. Yates was sentenced to death in October 2002.
Those who currently work with and for Sheriff Sterk see his major accomplishment as having taken a department mired in negativity and low moral and transformed it to a progressive one staffed by an enthusiastic group of highly motivated and professional personnel. He has instilled in each member of the staff a sense of pride in themselves and in their department. He continues to successfully lobby the County for funding for additional personnel and resources. Sheriff Sterk has allowed his deputies to propose alternative shifts that work best for them and when possible, implemented those shifts for better coverage and has encouraged them to take advantage of the HUD funded “Officer Next Door” program.
His quest for knowledge, training and education is infectious. Long before many departments saw the need, Sheriff Sterk insisted that all command staff be trained in anti-terrorism tactics, making sure that the majority of the SWAT Team members received training with FEMA and the Department of Domestic Preparedness.
As much as he cares for and supports those who work for him, Sheriff Sterk has a deep concern for the people who live in his county. When the 2,100 steelworkers at the Kaiser Aluminum plant were locked out, he publicly encouraged the company to allow them to go back to work until a contract was signed, citing that the “cost to Kaiser Aluminum and the United Steel Workers was incalculable, both in terms of dollars lost and lives disrupted.”
The father of three daughters, Sheriff Sterk knows that too many teenagers get involved with alcohol, causing far too many deaths each year. His “Every 15 Minutes” program, designed to educate high school juniors and seniors about the dangers of under-age drinking alcohol abuse, has been a huge success. The two-day program gives students the opportunity to meet with police officers to discuss topics related to drinking, drunk driving, and the devastation it can cause. An eye-opening session allows some to become “walking dead” students, representing those who have died from alcohol related accidents.
A simulated death takes place, a family is chosen to receive the mock death notification call, and a workshop is held to discuss the impact that loss can have on the family and the community. The “Every 15 Minutes” program is educational, but more importantly, it provides a link between the students and the law enforcement community, creating more trust and communication between the two.
When there’s a problem, Sheriff Sterk takes the necessary steps to address it. When it was announced that Spokane County ranked third in the state for methamphetamine labs, he organized the multi-county Methamphetamine Task Force. He established a traffic unit within the department which now includes 29 motorcycle officers, GPS units for patrol cars and even an airplane. Additionally, the department’s Community Oriented Policing program is a national model.
Mark Sterk is a self-motivated individual whose dedication to law enforcement development and progress is legendary. His commitment to his deputies and civilian employees is unwavering as is his service to the people of Spokane County. The NLEOMF proudly awards Sheriff Mark Sterk with the Officer of the Month Award. He is a wonderful example to all law enforcement leaders in this country.
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