When Olympia Police Officer Ryan Donald shot two shoplifting suspects on May 21, he had worked for the Olympia Police Department for three years. Before that, the 35-year-old Lacey resident served in the military as an Army specialist.
In the past four years, the Olympia department has hired 30 new officers as older ones retired. Of those new hires, five are former soldiers, said Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts during a June 10 meeting with The Olympian’s editorial board.
Donald is one of those five officers.
Donald has been under scrutiny since May 21, when he shot half brothers Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin on Cooper Point Road. The two men were suspected of stealing beer from the West Olympia Safeway, and Donald shot them following an alleged altercation.
Donald joined the Army in October 2001 and served on active-duty through October 2006. He deployed to Iraq and to Kosovo during that time, according to records obtained by The Olympian through the Freedom of Information Act.
He went to Iraq on a second deployment in 2009 with a National Guard unit based out of Louisiana. The documents show that he has been discharged from the military, but they do not characterize his discharge in any way.
Records show he received two Army Commendation Medals for his service during his two Iraq deployments.
“Donald’s warrior spirit and tactical proficiency proved invaluable to the success of the unit’s mission during combat operations” reads the award he received for his 2004-05 deployment.
He also received a Combat Action Badge, which is awarded to soldiers who experience direct combat and return fire.
During the editorial board meeting, Roberts said the department doesn’t go out of its way to hire former soldiers — or even law enforcement officers from other departments. Olympia typically searches for new officers who can be trained according to the department’s values and goals.
When veterans are considered for employment, they undergo the same scrutiny as other applicants, Roberts said.
Applicants undergo psychological examinations, a polygraph test, and a background check when they apply. They’re also interviewed by a board made up of police department employees and people from other City of Olympia departments, and later by the police chief.
“When we see any indication that there’s a concern … they don’t continue on,” Roberts said. “We don’t want other people’s problems.”
The chief makes the final decision on hiring.
Then comes training, which can take between 9 months and a year — including the five months spent at the state Law Enforcement Academy. New hires spend two-and-a-half to three months in a department-curated training program, which teaches them the specifics of Olympia city code, department standards and how to implement the things they learned in the state academy.
“It’s an extensive training program, and there are all kinds of checks and balances to go through,” Lower said. “We take it very seriously.”
Lt. Paul Lower said the training process isn’t shortened for applicants with military history, or for people with college degrees.
“You have to go through the exact same training process,” Lower said. “You don’t get any special treatment.”
Before a new officer can hit the road alone, they have to pass a “checkout ride.” The officer works a partial shift, with a training officer following behind in another car. The training officer then evaluates the new officer on his or her performance. If the officer passes the test, they’re allowed to start normal duty.
The department has moved away from “warrior-style” policing as the public’s expectations have evolved, Roberts said, and training reflects that. Instead, officers are trained to act as community guardians.
The recently reinstated night walking patrol is an example of this community policing, he said. Officers are expected to be out in the community, interacting with the public in positive ways.
“We really believe that if we have the public’s trust, we can accomplish everything we need,” Roberts said. “We’ve focused on this notion that all people have dignity.”