Bret Farrar, beloved former Lakewood police chief, dies at 59

by: KIRO 7 Staff and The News Tribune Updated:

Bret Farrar, the man who served as a police officer and sheriff’s deputy for nearly three decades and who as chief led the Lakewood Police Department through the deadliest attack on police in Washington State history, died Wednesday.

Farrar, who battled cancer, was 59. 

"Bret was not just a good guy, Bret was the best of guys," friend and KIRO 7 photojournalist Terry Griffin said. "Bret was a giant among giants with an uncanny ability to be as gentle, kind, giving, and self depreciating to the point of being seen as shy or even reserved."

[Follow this link to read a longer look back on Farrar's life from photojournalist Terry Griffin.]

Farrar started his law enforcement career in 1988 as a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy and transferred to the Lakewood Police Department shortly after it formed in 2004. He was named chief in 2008.

“Bret was able to come in and provide stability and consistency to establish a police department,” Assistant Chief Mike Zaro told the Tacoma News Tribune shortly before Farrar’s retirement in April 2015. “He gave us focus and direction and got us looking at the mission instead of just enforcing laws.”

The year after he started as chief, a deranged gunman went into a Parkland coffee shop and killed Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards as they were preparing for their shifts.

In the aftermath, Farrar told The Seattle Times he “felt just an immense amount of pressure to be the rock,” not only for his department and the officers’ families, but for the larger community.

“It was personally devastating, but everybody is looking … to you so you really can’t show a lot of emotion,” he told the newspaper a year after the shootings. “You have to show strength.”

The gunman was killed in a confrontation with Seattle police less than two days later, and a memorial to the victims was unveiled the following year.

After the officers and sergeant were slain, Farrar brought the entire police force with him onto the steps of police headquarters for his first public address on the shooting. And when the coffee shop finally reopened, Farrar was first in line.

Farrar received the Medal of Valor in 2001, a Life Saving Medal in 1993, five Medals of Merit from 1998 to 2003 - including a Special Commendation Medal of Merit in 2002 - the Leadership Award from the Tacoma Pierce County Chaplaincy in April of 2010 and the Administrator of the Year Award 2010 from the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs.

Under his leadership, the Lakewood Police Department received the 2014 Rise Agency of the Year Award from Taser International and its accreditation through the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

"Chief Farrar has been an outstanding leader who has nurtured the professionalism of the department and guided it to ever-increasing credibility and national recognition,” Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson said shortly before Farrar’s retirement.

Outside of his police role, Farrar worked with the Y.W.C.A. Women’s Shelter, was a youth basketball coach, a bone marrow donor to unrelated recipients, and served as a host family for foreign exchange students, among other efforts.

In 2010, when Farrar was diagnosed with bladder cancer and his wife were diagnosed with breast cancer, Farrar never lost his cheery demeanor and was back at work within four months.

Farrar’s last day as chief was April 6, 2015. He said then he planned to spend sunny days with his wife, Cindy Salazar, in Arizona. Farrar is also survived by their daughter, Sam.

"It has been my honor and sincere privilege to serve the citizens of Pierce County and Lakewood for the last 27 years,” Farrar said shortly before his retirement. “I look forward to serving my wife for the remainder of my life.”

Information from News Tribune reporter Stacia Glenn and Lakewood Police is included in this report.


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