Undersheriff looks back on island years

On Monday, Undersheriff Bruce Distler will get on a ferry with his wife Bonni, their car and trailer and say farewell to the island he has called home for the last eight and a half years.

On Monday, Undersheriff Bruce Distler will get on a ferry with his wife Bonni, their car and trailer and say farewell to the island he has called home for the last eight and a half years.

Bruce and Bonni are moving to Green Valley, Ariz. They first “fell” for the state when the visited last year and decided that it was the place for retirement. Bruce describes Green Valley as a  55-plus community with “absolutely killer recreation,” including swimming pools and plenty of golf.

It has been two years since Bruce has swung a club, but now he will have plenty of time to perfect his game. He also looks forward to riding his Harley Davidson.

“What I will miss most is the friends we’ve made,” he said.

Bruce was appointed to undersheriff in 2013. That month Sheriff Rob Nou told the Sounder that Bruce was chosen for his education, experience, personality, temperament and philosophy.

The undersheriff has a master’s degree in management and criminal justice from Colorado Technical University. He has spent nearly 22 years as a law enforcement officer, serving San Juan County since 2006. Prior to beginning his police career, he served 22 years with the Air Force, retiring as a master sergeant in aeromedical evacuation. He is a drug recognition expert, specially trained to determine if people are under the influence of drugs other than alcohol.

Bruce said there was a huge learning curve transitioning from his job as a deputy being on the road to working as an administrator and leader. The undersheriff is considered the second in command of the sheriff’s office. Bruce supervised sergeants, detectives, corrections officers and the traffic officer.

As a deputy, Bruce recalls that he “knew” how to fix everything that he could do a better job than those in higher positions. As undersheriff the realities of problem solving had a new meaning. He realized that decisions are not always based on what will make others happy but are more about balancing the budget and working with the county and the community.

Bruce also learned over his career in law enforcement how to deal with traumatic situations like car accidents and suicides. He said people would be shocked to hear how police talk to one another in these situations.

“Your mental functions in these cases try to protect you from going crazy,” he said.

One part of his job that always made him feel satisfied is that of all the trauma he has witnessed none of it has ever been caused by his hand.

“I’ve never had to fire my weapon at another human being,” he said.

Bruce also says he is proud of the fact that everyone he has worked with, from witness to victim to those being arrested, have respected the way he does his job.

“It goes back to my original training to treat everyone the way you would want to be treated,” he said. “People are people and we all make mistakes.”

Even with those successes under his belt, Bruce looks forward to walking away from the stress of law enforcement.

Bonni is also retiring from her position at the Orcas Family Health Center. She has worked in the medical coding and billing department for four years.

“She is an integral part of the group here and will be missed,” said billing and collection specialist Marie Drape.

Bonni worked for 25 years as a 911 dispatcher and then switched to the medical field when the couple moved to the island.

Bruce leaves the department at a pivotal time. In January, Ron Krebs will replace Rob Nou as the sheriff and will appoint a new undersheriff.

Bruce’s advice to the new team is to find balance in the leadership roles.

“Sometimes I was the voice of reason and sometimes Rob was,” he said. “We would trade off. That is important.”