Richland police captain retires after 35 years

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldApril 30, 2014 

05_23_03 Hilton trial

Al Wehner l

Al Wehner is modest when he speaks about his 35-year career in law enforcement. But those who know the Richland police captain describe him as an ace investigator admired for his integrity.

Wehner, 56, is retiring from the department after a career spanning four decades. His final day as a police officer was Wednesday.

"In 32 years traveling across North America I have not met a finer investigator," said Capt. Mike Cobb, Wehner's friend and co-worker for more than 30 years. "Al Wehner is the best. If it's a big deal, you want Wehner on it."

Wehner always wanted to be a cop growing up and joined the department as a cadet in the early 1970s, he said. He stayed in the cadet program all the way through high school and became a senior cadet after graduation.

Wehner then worked as a dispatcher and took calls in the first regional dispatch center in the basement of Kennewick City Hall, he said. He was a dispatcher until 1979, when he became a commissioned officer.

Wehner served as a patrol officer before moving up to detective, he said. After three years in the detective division, he was promoted to corporal. He served in that position for two years before becoming a patrol squad sergeant.

During his time as sergeant, Wehner wrote the department's policy manual, which eventually led to a state accreditation, and developed the policy on mass arrest situations. He was on the front line during the 1988 Water Follies riots in Pasco and a supervisor during the nuclear demonstrations in Richland in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Wehner also helped create the department's first hostage negotiations unit, serving as the unit's supervisor for many years.

"It's fair to say I have a pretty analytical thought process," Wehner said. "I am able to think things through from beginning to end."

Wehner was named Officer of the Year in 1990 for developing a plan in Richland to make Water Follies safer.

In 1994, Wehner became a detective sergeant and was the primary investigator on five homicides in a 10-year span, he said. His work helped secure convictions in all the cases, though the main suspect in the murder of Jose Muro is still on the run.

Wehner helped solve the 20-year-old homicide case of Vicki Bridges, a single mother beaten and raped during a burglary. Bridges' two young children were in a nearby room when she was killed in 1979. Brian Skinner was eventually convicted of the murder.

Wehner was also the lead investigator on the murders of Marvin Tate Sr., Larry and Josephine Ulrich, Aaron Laws and Muro. The Ulrich murders received extensive media coverage. Kevin Hilton was eventually convicted of shooting the Richland couple he rented a room from.

Wehner won four service awards for his work on the cases.

"You do get to know the victims through their family and friends," Wehner said. "As tragic as each of those cases were, it was satisfying to me to help bring about justice and accountability to the (men) that killed those people."

Wehner was promoted in 2004 to captain, a position he has held ever since. He most recently re-wrote the department's policy manual and was picked to help create the Tri-Cities' first Regional Special Investigative Unit.

The unit is multi-jurisdictional and investigates cases where members of law enforcement agencies are involved in incidents where someone is killed or seriously injured. Wehner has been commander of the unit since it was created in 2011.

"He literally created that unit," Cobb said, "He set the standards, he wrote the manual and he recruited the personnel."

Family, friends and co-workers will honor Wehner today at the Richland Public Library.

Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg will be on hand to congratulate his friend of more than 40 years.

The two lived together in Hohenberg's house when they were young officers.

"He will be missed by a lot of people in law enforcement," Hohenberg said. "He has contributed to make the Tri-Cities safer as a whole. That truly is the mark of a great cop."

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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