Yelm Detective Prepares to Retire After Years of Dedication and Community Connections

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The path to fame and fortune for most 14-year-olds is clearly not paved with gold. Their first paid jobs — though sometimes memorable, be it exhilarating or dreadful — are frequently the ones that after every shift require a good, hard scrubbing in a bathtub. 

So it was for Yelm Police Department Det. Bill DeVore, who in 1985 got his first taste of the commercial work world that beckoned to him from a nearby farm.

For six months in 1985, DeVore “debeaked” chickens at Stiebrs Farm in Yelm.

“We held the chicks under a machine (like a guillotine) that sliced off the end of their beaks,” he explained nonchalantly by phone last week.

According to the website Poultry Hub, the practice — generally performed in the early life of commercial hens — decreases injuries to the chicks caused by cannibalism, bullying, and feather and vent pecking.

But that was 35 years ago, long before DeVore would don the badge of a YPD patrol officer. And now, after nearly 21 years in local law enforcement, DeVore’s retiring. His last day will be June 30. We’ll tell you more about that in a bit, but first a little more history.

DeVore — who graduated from Yelm High School in 1990 and then tinkered with college for a bit — escaped the beak-trimming business to take a job at the now-defunct Yelm Thriftway grocery store, where he worked for 13 years until 1998, ending his gig as the store’s grocery manager. 

But it was around this time — while DeVore was still working at Thriftway — that the YPD came calling. They wanted to know if DeVore had ever considered becoming a reserve police officer. The grocery manager’s prowess nabbing Thriftway shoplifters had caught the attention of the department, and they wanted him on their team.

So DeVore applied for the reserve officer position, was hired, and before he knew it the YPD  enrolled him in a six-month reserve police officer academy. 

It was a big change.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” he said. “It was all new to me.”

DeVore — who has lived in Yelm since age 6 — would end up working another three years at Thriftway while roaming Yelm’s streets as a reserve officer before finally deciding he wanted to pursue police work as a potential career.

“I realized after a few years that we were really accomplishing something good by fighting crime, and that we were helping people have better lives,” he said. “At that point, I thought I could see myself doing the job full time.”

DeVore held his reserve officer position from 1995 to 2000 before being hired full time in 2000 as a YPD patrol officer, a role he fulfilled until 2006.

That year, he switched gears a bit and became the YPD’s school resource officer for the Yelm School District. He stayed in that position until 2011, returned to patrol duty for three more years and in 2015 was promoted to detective, a position he still holds.

He fondly recalls his school resource officer days haunting the halls of the district’s schools.

“Our major focus in the schools was to interact with the kids,” he said. “My personal goal was just to let them know that we (police officers) were normal people, and that they could come up to us and talk whenever they wanted. I enjoyed that interaction.”

But a few years later when the YPD detective position opened, DeVore jumped at it. 

His reason was simple: “I didn’t want to go on graveyard,” he said, adding that he was scheduled to immediately assume the 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift had he not secured the detective’s position. 

“As you get older, the graveyard schedule gets worse,” he said. “My wife would have been home alone at night, and nobody wants their wife home alone then.”

So for the past five years DeVore has investigated everything from robberies and homicides to child abuse and pornography. He is also the department’s evidence custodian, whereby he processes evidence used in court proceedings.

He’s enjoyed the detective work, he said, because it’s “different all the time.” He also enjoys collaborating with other local law enforcement agencies, such as the police departments in Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

“I meet a lot of good people that way and am able to assist them in their own investigations,” he said.

He recalled one of his own most intriguing cases: a 2016 Yelm bank heist at America’s Credit Union where a suspect in a wig and deceptive clothing robbed the bank at gunpoint and fled. DeVore and his YPD comrades caught the suspect about 10 days later, DeVore recalled, and the bank robber was subsequently convicted for the crime.

“It makes you feel accomplished that you were able to put the pieces together and solve the crime,” DeVore said. “You have to go into these incidents with the confidence and thought process that you’ll be able to solve the case and hope you can get all of the information you need to solve it.”

DeVore realizes he won’t be able to crack every case that comes his way — and he tells victims that up front. 

“I’m a straight shooter, and I’m sympathetic to people’s needs, but I don’t hide anything from them,” DeVore said. “People appreciate it when you’re honest and up front with them and don’t make excuses. People respect you when you say ‘this is what I can do, and this is how I will do it’ and then follow up with them later.”

That attitude fits DeVore’s personality to a T, says YPD Assistant Chief Rob Carlson.

“Bill has a lot of connections with the community, knows a lot of people, and that’s helped him in his career,” Carlson said. “He’s willing to talk and listen, and is a nice guy. After 20 years in this career field, that says something about your character and personality. It takes a certain type of individual to deal with the adversities that come with the job and come out of it with people respecting you.”

Devore’s other YPD supervisor, Chief Todd Stancil, noted traits similar to those Carlson enumerated.

“His (DeVore’s) longstanding connection with the community has enabled him to serve the community in which many residents knew him from a young age, and that has made his service to the community that much more personal,” Stancil said. “Bill’s experience as an officer and detective will be greatly missed by the department, yet I’m excited for the opportunities he has created for himself and his family.”

That opportunity — the one that prompted his imminent retirement from the YPD — lies almost smack dab in the middle of Yelm.

It’s called the 507 Taproom & Filling Station. DeVore founded the cozy craft beer, wine and cider bar at 106 Prairie Park St. S.E. near Yelm Cinemas and Uptown Lounge two years ago and hasn’t looked back.

“I thought Yelm needed a taproom, and I wanted to be the first to do it because I knew a person could make good money at it,” he said. “I thought the community would respond to it, and in my spare time I’ve enjoyed visiting different tap rooms and breweries and trying different types of beer.”

Devore, who has been married to wife Sara for 28 years, has two daughters, aged 25 and 28, and two grandchildren, said that in the two years he’s owned the taproom his clientele has been “phenomenal.” DeVore’s patrons may choose from 18 kinds of beer and cider on tap, six varieties of wine, and 120 different canned beers. 

“The people are always happy when they come in because they want to be here,” he said. “I enjoy interacting with them, and it’s fun explaining the different beers and ciders to people. I try to educate myself as much as possible on the products we carry.”

DeVore is working at the taproom two days a week now, but that should increase to five days once he retires from the YPD. He and his four employees have managed to keep busy despite the COVID-19 economic restrictions.

To-go orders in special 507 containers and an outdoor seating patio with heaters and a roll-up door that accommodates 20 people have helped him fend off the coronavirus storm. 

“We’re trying to maintain our outdoor seating even during bad weather and making sure our customers are comfortable,” DeVore said. 

The virus, though wreaking havoc just about everywhere, hasn’t emotionally or psychologically affected DeVore, he said, though it hurts him to see other people suffering — especially when a few of his YPD colleagues recently contracted and survived COVID-19.

“I feel sorry for them,” he said. “The people at the police department are family, and you want to make sure they stay healthy and get over whatever the pandemic had for them. We frequently clean accordingly (at the police department), so I was never really nervous about getting the virus.”

When DeVore’s not working in one place or the other — which is rare these days — you might find him on the golf course several days a week, watching sporting events on television, or hanging out with his grandkids via Zoom video.

Throughout the year he also participates in a variety of community events, such as Yelm’s Christmas in the Park and Prairie Days festivals, and come summer coordinates the annual Cuffs-n-Trucks Golf Tournament that benefits the Sgt. Justin Norton Scholarship Foundation. 

And though he’ll transition to a slightly different lifestyle in July, DeVore’s devotion to Yelm remains steady.

“We love the community feel of Yelm,” he said. “The people here seem to be involved all the time, and we are all kind of like a big family.”

A family that includes all of those Yelm chickens with whom DeVore once interacted and that some other 14-year-old may now be tending. 

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