Pasco’s 5-month search for a new police chief is over

The city of Pasco picked longtime police administrator Ken Roske as its next police chief.

The announcement was made at a Tuesday news conference after a five-month search.

Roske and two other candidates were vying to replace former Chief Bob Metzger, who retired in April.

Roske, 55, has been with the agency for 33 years.

“I’m humbled to stand in front of many of the officers out here, the media and the community that is out there, that I have spent the last three decades providing public service to,” he said at the news conference. “I’m honored to do that.”

City Manager Dave Zabell said he wanted to find the best person to lead the department, join the executive team and serve the people of Pasco.

“It came down to who is going to be the best contributor, who is going to be able to enter into the city’s executive leadership team, serve the people of Pasco — and our deputy chief had that edge,” he said.

Pasco police career

Roske grew up in the Tri-Cities and began his law enforcement career with Pasco in 1986, and served as a K9 officer and in the traffic and gang suppression units.

He moved into a leadership role starting in 2004, working as the division commander in field operations, support operations and in the training division.

He was picked for the police department’s No. 2 leadership position in late 2017.

Zabell pointed to Roske’s work rebuilding public trust after the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, who was killed by police while acting erratically and throwing rocks at officers and cars at a busy intersection.

The death triggered protests, including many in the the Latino community who felt officers should have been better trained to deescalate the confrontation and to deal with people with mental health and drug issues.

Pasco Police Deputy Chief Ken Roske

Zabell also credited Roske’s work leading efforts to improve the agency’s social media outreach. Part of that was creating one of the most followed police Facebook sites in the state.

“That is a tribute to Ken’s vision for that, and his efforts to get the right people in the right place to do that,” Zabell said.

He also led efforts to make Pasco one of a dozen police agencies in the state to earn accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Roske has been instrumental in getting computers into police cars and getting officers equipped with body cameras, Zabell said.

Along with Roske’s work in the department, he’s been the Tri-Cities Regional SWAT Team incident commander, state president of the fraternal order of police and chair of the Columbia Basin law enforcement advisory committee.

“This selection is the first time in more than half a century that we’ve selected a police chief from inside the organization,” Zabell said. “I think that says a lot about the organization and how far it has come.”

Pasco growth

Roske said while the department has seen a lot of improvement during his time, he wants to make sure they are ready for the challenges and growth ahead.

“The men and women of this department have done great things,” he said. “Fortunately, we have a community that appreciates our transparency and our ability to relate with them.”

He said he wants to make sure the agency continues hiring quality officers and maintains the policies that helped them get accredited.

“As the city prepares to grow another 50,000 residents in another 20 years, we’re setting the foundation now of what that’s going to look like to meet those challenges and not lose the service level,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being a full-service police department. You call us and we will come.”

Roske plans to fill the deputy chief position and will start a search for his replacement.

As deputy chief, Roske made nearly $124,000 last year. Metzer’s salary at the time he retired was about $139,000.

Though Roske has been with Pasco for 33 years, he said has much more to give the department.

“I can work for a lot of years going forward,” he said. “I’m eager. I’m excited. I think I still have some youth left in me.”

Other finalists

The five-month search for a new chief narrowed 17 applicants to five finalists. Two dropped out of the running, leaving Roske, Sunnyside police Chief Al Escalera and Capt. Charles Goeken from Manteca, Calif.

Escalera wanted to return to Pasco after years of living here, but working other places.

He began his 35-year law enforcement career in the city as a community service officer before joining the Washington State Patrol. He also worked in West Richland, before becoming chief in Sunnyside.

He also was a finalist for Richland’s chief position.

Goeken, a U.S. Navy veteran, has worked in Manteca for 25 years and wanted to return to Washington state.

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.