Salem’s 2021 Police Officer of the Year is known for going the extra mile in everything he does.
Whether he’s traveling all the way from Seattle to join the Salem Police Department, driving nearly an hour to get to work each day or hitting the pavement in a full sprint to apprehend an armed suspect, Jonathan Detzler has earned the utmost respect of his peers.
“Jonathan has been a member of the department for less than three years, but in that short time he has made a favorable impression on everyone he has encountered,” says Mike Crawley, Salem Police Chief. “He has a great understanding of service to others, and it is very apparent that he genuinely cares about people and wants to help them.”
That was never more evident that on the night of June 30, 2021, when Officer Detzler reported for duty on the opening night of the Salem Fair.
“I had just been on six hours of traffic duty when I arrived at the fairgrounds,” says Detzler. “Sgt. Malek and I were walking to our observation post on the midway and as we were approaching the tower, we heard three loud pops in succession.”
Because that particular observation lookout is in the middle of several rides, concessions and games, Detzler and Malek initially thought the sounds were coming from the balloon popping game.
“We were right beside that game, but as I turned around, I saw a juvenile with a gun in his hand and he was pointing it into the crowd,” says Detzler. “When he saw me, he stumbled back, put the gun in his pocket and started running.”
Detzler was able to get a description to his fellow officers and keep track of the suspect as he weaved his way through fairgoers, who were entering the midway. His quick and decisive actions allowed the Salem Police Department to capture the suspect before he left the premises and secure the weapon that was used in the shooting.
“I didn’t realize how bad the incident could have been until we did our debriefing meeting,” he says. “I wish I could tell you why I didn’t hesitate, but I think my training and instincts just took over. I feel very fortunate that he did not shoot at me and that I did not have to draw my gun on a juvenile.”
Two people were injured in the incident, new safety measures were immediately put in place on the fairgrounds and the criminal case was adjudicated in Salem Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Officer Detzler’s peers recognized him for heroically reacting to what could have been a much worse situation.
“I was pretty emotional when the Chief and Major informed me that my peers had voted for me to receive this honor,” he says. “They expressed that it was not just for my actions at the fair, but an accumulation of my work. For the people I care about the most, other than my family, to recognize my efforts means a great deal to me.”
“Salem can take great pride in having Jonathan serving in our community,” says Crawley. “He always tries to set the right type of example for others, and he is someone who joined this profession for all of the right reasons.”
And it’s how the former high school wrestler and boy scout made his way to Salem that is a story in itself.
“I think the moment I decided that I wanted to be a police officer was when an arsonist was being pursued in San Diego and I was there at the time,” says Detzler. “He was going up and down the highway starting fires and I just felt like I needed to be out doing something. I had always been part of team and I knew then that police work was something I wanted to do.”
Detzler grew up in a Seattle and met his wife while both were students at Washington State University in Pullman. His wife was an accomplished swimmer, who eventually earned a full Division One scholarship as a member of the Cougars varsity rowing team. Detzler was a member of the Washington State men’s club rowing team and the two met through their connection on the water.
“We got engaged in college and we were married as soon as we got out of school in 2013,” he says.
At the time, his new in-laws were living in San Diego, but his wife’s parents were both Virginia Tech graduates and his new mother-in-law actually grew up in Henry County. Work took his wife’s family to San Diego, but it was that family connection that brought them all back to Virginia.
“My wife had a difficult pregnancy with our first child and actually lost her job in Seattle,” he says. “Her aunts back in Bassett told them they should come back and live in a relative’s house that has been sitting empty for two years.”
The couple thought about the opportunity for about a week before putting their Seattle home on the market and heading to the east coast for a fresh start with family close by.
“I originally majored in civil engineering at Washington State but ended up driving a forklift for a shipping yard in Seattle and then Costco,” he says. “My dad raised me with a service perspective in boy scouts and in church and I felt like I was missing that purpose in my adult life.”
When he arrived back in Virginia, his wife’s cousin, who is in law enforcement, told Detzler that Salem was hiring. He applied, made an indelible first impression and immediately got a true view of what lied ahead.
“The first ride-along I did to see if this was really something I could do was eye opening,” he says. “There was a traffic stop, a domestic situation and a possible suicide. It let me know that at the end of the day I could truly be helping someone.”
He knew the learning curve would be steep one at the start, but Detzler’s relentless work ethic and his engineering mindset allowed him to tackle the transition methodically.
“I constantly want to get better, and the people here will make sure that happens,” he says. “I had never shot a gun when I got here, but Captain Todd Clayton initially took me to the range for eight straight hours and taught me what I needed to know. I wrestled in the state tournament, but I had never engaged in hand-to-hand battles until I was taught at the academy. Police work allows you to put in the time and get better and better with the help of training and classes.”
The desire to get better and help others is part of the fabric that ties the Detzler family together. His wife, Allie, worked with a crisis center to help the homeless in Seattle and seriously thought about becoming a police officer. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree with plans to become a counselor in social work.
“I left a better paying job with better benefits and better hours to become a police officer and she never questioned me because she could see it gave me purpose,” he says. “We have a lot of conversations about personal accountability, and she helped me understand that even those with a history of personal trauma need to be held accountable to protect the overall community. She helped me understand that you can be empathetic, you can treat someone with courtesy and respect and still do your job.”
For the Detzlers, making a difference in the community requires all of those traits along with a competitive spirit.
“It’s almost like we have a competition to help others that is similar to when we rowed,” he says. “Although, she would probably disagree because she thinks I have terrible technique.”
Maybe on the water, but not on the streets of Salem.