I first met Loretta 30 years ago. She was a Police Patrol Officer. Her patrol partner was PPO Lin Sue Peterson. Loretta was assigned to take me on a Citizens’ Academy ride-along during an overnight patrol shift.
Over the police radio came a dispatch to an address in Northeast Tacoma. A citizen reported a “man with a gun” outside the house across the street from his home.
It was nearing 3:00 a.m. when we arrived. The caller approached the police car. He said he wasn’t sure the guy had a gun: “It might have just been a stick.” He said the power had been cut off to the house across the street; a young female lived there, but that was all he knew. The unknown male had disappeared in the darkness since the call to 911.
The officers approached the front door of the dark house. They knocked and announced, “Tacoma Police. Open the door.” Moments later a young man emerged from beside the house with a sawed-off shotgun leveled at Loretta. She shouted, “Tacoma Police. Put the gun down!” He continued to advance toward her. After what seemed like an eternity, he ever-so-slightly began to lower the shotgun. Loretta was within arm’s reach of the weapon. She grabbed the shotgun by the barrel and wrenched it away from him. He was taken into custody with no shots fired.
Who Is Loretta Cool?
After 35 years of service, Loretta Cool is a familiar face in Tacoma and Pierce County as the public information officer (PIO) for Tacoma Police Department. People recognize her voice in soundbites on radio news and see her providing official updates on TV from grisly crime scenes. Due to the brevity of those clips, most would never imagine the grueling, around-the-clock nature the role demands.
When Loretta joined the department at 22, she was “simply looking for a job.” She could not have foreseen what the years ahead would include on her remarkable journey.
One of her first assignments was as a foot patrol officer on Hilltop. Loretta is physically tough and resilient. She has worked through the pain of wear-and-tear on her knee joints throughout her adult life. Over the course of her career she has undergone bilateral knee replacement. And has kept going. While a bicycle patrol officer, TPD hired a professional trick bicyclist to enhance her training on jumps over concrete obstacles in Tacoma’s urban terrain.
Among Loretta’s many firsts were 20-plus years with the SWAT team. This was a unique pairing not only because of her gender, but also because of her diminutive stature. SWAT gear weighed 80-85 pounds. Today, thanks to Kevlar and other lighter weight materials, the gear weighs less than 50 pounds.
Loretta competed for the SWAT position and passed the physical agility requirements, which were the same for her as for the men. Loretta describes SWAT team members as “like brothers” to her. She is the third of four children in a Japanese-American family with two older sisters and a younger brother.
When she became a SWAT negotiator, Loretta’s skill as a natural communicator was critical in negotiation tactics. She explains it is most important to: “listen and establish rapport. And then convince the person that what you are trying to get them to do is what is in their best interest.”
Loretta’s judo expertise provides the basis for both her physical and mental toughness equipping her well for “verbal judo” as a SWAT negotiator. She trains with Team Ippon Judo at the Lakewood YMCA.
Loretta emphasizes anyone considering a career in police work needs a close bond with fellow officers. But of paramount importance is to maintain a strong family life and community connections outside of work. Loretta elaborated that law enforcement is, “…not just about getting the bad guys off the streets,” but a wider focus of “serving the other 80% of the people in the community; the ones who get up and go to work each day, who care about others.”
K-9 Axle and Bo
Loretta’s long stint with SWAT was followed by her ultimate assignment: Becoming a dog handler with Axle, a K-9. Together they set a TPD record for more than 50 tracking captures over a six-month period of time.
Former Washington State Patrol PIO Bob Calkins, author of Sierra, The Search Dog, recalls talking with Loretta when “…we found we had a connection as not only PIOs, but as dog handlers. I remember a great conversation where we said nothing about press releases or how to manage a gaggle of reporters, and all about the classic phrase ‘trust your dog.’”
Loretta’s eyes light up when she talks about the year-round sport of dock diving in Purdy and Brown Dog University in Gig Harbor Brown Dog University. Dogs compete from across the US and Canada. Scores are based on height or distance of their jump from the dock into the water.
Until a couple of years ago, Loretta had three beloved dogs, but now channels all of her love into her Australian Shepherd named “Bo.”
Wrapping up 35 years of service in January 2020 with a long list of diverse roles, she has made her decision official that, “It’s time (to retire).” Burnout? “No.” Health-related? “No.” Simply more years ahead of good health in which to savor retirement, including travel.
But she still awakens from sleep every couple of hours. It will take time for a more nearly normal sleep cycle to develop. She is acclimated to nearly constant yet unpredictable sleep disruption.
Loretta’s dedication, diligence and determination are inspiring, especially to girls. Sandi Randolph-Lewis, a friend of Loretta’s, says that Loretta is a, “Pioneer for minority women in a male dominant field, a dedicated asset to Tacoma and the safety of our community. She was not afraid to accomplish many firsts as a strong, composed, female with integrity.”