New Pasco police chief praises department, community

The new Pasco police chief doesn't start his job until October, but he took time Wednesday to talk to officers and staff at his new department.

Bob Metzger, who formally was named Monday to replace retiring Chief Denis Austin, also took time Wednesday night to meet community and law enforcement leaders.

"I think it's a well-run department," said Metzger, 59. "The officers have a lot of pride in what they do ... and the results are tremendous."

Metzger, who has 35 years of law enforcement experience in Michigan and Ohio, last worked as a chief in Sylvania Township, Ohio. He retired from that post last September.

Metzger said he became interested in the Pasco chief's job because he was looking for nice weather and he has a lot of friends in the state -- some of them chiefs -- who said the Tri-Cities was a good area.

When he came out in July for an interview, Metzger said he spent the day driving around the area and liked what he saw.

"It just felt very good. It felt like something I would like to do," he said.

Metzger said he is excited about the community-oriented policing the department is doing and added that it is important to him to keep that going. He also said he is impressed with what Austin has accomplished in his 16 years as chief. Austin's last day was Wednesday.

Pasco has one of the lowest crime rates in the state --29 victims per 1,000 population -- a stark contrast to the crime rate of 96 victims per 1,000 the city had when Austin took over.

In the past couple of years, however, gang crime has started to increase in Pasco and the Tri-Cities.

Metzger said that while he hasn't had direct experience dealing with gangs in the towns where he was chief, when he led the Zeeland, Mich., police department, there were a lot of Asian gangs in nearby areas.

"We were proactive in keeping them out of town," he said.

There's no perfect solution to getting rid of gangs, Metzger said, but it takes everyone working together.

"What I see here in Pasco is the community working with police. I've seen that community effort. Police doing it alone is not going to work," he said.

Metzger said he wants to continue that partnership with the community and with other Tri-City law enforcement agencies.

Metzger, who has 18 years of experience as chief of four different agencies, said he is not coming to Pasco with a list of changes he wants to make, but he wants to take what's being done here and make it better.

He hopes to work with other agencies to improve the communications system -- law enforcement agencies across the river in Benton County are on a different radio system than Pasco -- and wants to be a mentor to officers in the department so that when he leaves, the next chief could come from within the department.

Metzger said he and his wife, Linda, are looking forward to becoming a part of the community.

City Manager Gary Crutchfield said he has asked Metzger, whose starting salary is $110,000, to make a five-year commitment.

Crutchfield said Metzger's depth of experience and his mentorship capability set him apart from the other candidates. The police chief search was done by city officials, who received applications from across the country.

The finalists were in town in July for interviews and assessments, then that group was narrowed to a top two or three, Crutchfield said. He then selected Metzger as the preferred candidate and hired a firm to do a background check.

As chief of the Sylvania Township Police Department, Metzger was responsible for getting the department accredited, which "is a good indication of his ability and knowledge of the accrediting system and what's expected for professional standards," Crutchfield said.

Metzger starts Oct. 3. Pasco police Capt. Jim Raymond will serve as acting chief in the interim.