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Cowlitz County was formed in the Washington Territory in 1854 with the county seat being Kalama. James Huntington was appointed the first sheriff. In the early 1900's, the city of Kelso wanted to be the county seat, but Kalama had more votes.

When the day dawned in 1923 that Kelso had more residents, an election was set and Kelso carried the vote. Most sheriffs have served only one term, four years. A few have served two, non-consecutive terms. And two have served twelve years (three terms) as sheriff; Les Nelson (1975-1986) and Brian Pedersen (1987-1998). Our longest serving sheriff was Merle Bevins who served from 1955 to 1971.

In 1973, a man later known as "D. B. Cooper" bailed out of a high-jacked plane while carrying several thousand dollars. He was said to have probably landed in southern Cowlitz County, but was never located.

On May 18, 1980 at 8.32 a.m., Mt. St. Helens erupted. While the mountain itself is predominately in neighboring Skamania County to the east, most of the foothills and occupied areas lie within Cowlitz County. Cowlitz County Sheriff Les Nelson was able to join with the sheriffs of Skamania and Lewis counties to form a unique, three county sheriffs' team called the Red Zone Patrol, which lasted three years. Commissioned in all three counties, these 21 deputies patrolled the Red Zone to keep people from unlawfully entering this prohibited area at the mountain. Since 1993, the U. S. Forest Service has contracted with Cowlitz County to provide one full time deputy in the Mt. St. Helens Monument on a full time basis.

In 1988, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties joined with the cities of Longview and Kelso to form a multi-agency Narcotics Task Force, funded by a federal grant and local jurisdiction contributions.

In 1991, county commissioners decided to break up the sheriff's office and created separate departments of Law Enforcement Records, Communications, Emergency Management, and Corrections. The sheriff is now left with general law enforcement, court security, and civil process.

In 1998, Sheriff Brian Pedersen secured a federal grant and installed a county wide Mobile Data Computer system in all law enforcement agency vehicles within the county.

The current sheriff, who took office in 1999, is Bill Mahoney, who started his law enforcement career in Cowlitz County is 1977.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office
312 SW 1st Ave.
Kelso, WA 98626-1740
Main Phone: 360-577-3092. Listen to voice message for extension information or press "0" to get receptionist.
Fax Number: 360-423-1047 is provided for official business only.
After Hours: 360-577-3092 (non-emergency line).
Emergency: dial 9-1-1 or 360-577-3090


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