This Tri-Cities police chief says growth is his big challenge

Ken Roske has spent his entire career training for the job he started last week.

He’s worked on DUI emphasis patrols, been a K9 officer, overseen a police department budget, been a SWAT Team incident commander and, for two years, he’s been the second in command of the Pasco Police Department.

So when he stepped into the top job at the department last week, he was ready to jump right in.

A longtime fixture in the Pasco department, Roske is the first in decades to be promoted to chief from within the department.

When City Manager Dave Zabell made the announcement, he said it was that experience that set Roske apart from the other applicants.

Pasco’s new police chief Ken Roske has been with the agency for 33 year. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

“Fortunately being inside the department for as long as I have, my learning curve is minimal,” Roske said. “The staff here have been overwhelmingly welcoming, as has been our city hall and the community. ... The outpouring of support and accolades have just been great.”

The new chief is looking toward to the future. He said the foundation they’ve built over the years is solid.

The city is expected to add another 50,000 residents in the next 20 years, nearly doubling the population, he said.

Preparing for that growth and maintaining the quality of police service are his biggest concerns.

Chief’s history

Roske has been a lifelong Tri-City resident. After graduating from Hanford High, he attended Columbia Basin College before joining the department 33 years ago.

The combination of having a career that presented different challenges and the ability to serve his community appealed to him.

“As a young kid, it was a goal I had. I was able to achieve my goal,” he said. “I’ve spent all of my adult life in Pasco, This has been the only long-term career that I’ve had.”

Roske has seen waves of criminal activity move through the city. First in ‘80s, when violence, fueled by the cocaine trade, pushed the city into expanding the police department.

Then again in the ‘90s, when gang influences moved up the coast and into Pasco. At that time, Roske worked with gang suppression units.

One of his favorite jobs before moving into administration was as a police dog handler. He spent nine years between two dogs — Rocco and Sabo.

K-9 trainers
Ken Roske rewards his partner Sabo in 1997 with a toy after the dog finds hidden drugs as part of their training. Roske was recently named police chief. File Tri-City Herald

He enjoyed the variety whether it was searching for narcotics or apprehending suspects. It was also nice to have access to a partner whose senses were much more keen than his own.

Along the way he finished his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and graduated from the FBI academy.

Roske moved into administration in 2004, and has overseen each area of the department. He’s served as division commander in field operations, support operations and in the training division.

He stepped into the newly created deputy chief position in 2017.

As he continued to pursue higher positions, he was able to increase his ability to influence the direction of the agency, he said.

“Each of those (positions) brought their own unique challenges and I was able to bring my own influences and direction for the department,” he said.

“Now as police chief, my vision and my ability to set policy and direction, I felt it was the right time for me. I had the right experience. And I really felt that Pasco was ready to stay the course,” he said.

Shown here in 2003, Ken Roske holds a new digital video system installed on all 17 police vehicles. Roske was recently picked to lead the department. File Tri-City Herald

Continuing success

Roske led the efforts to make Pasco one of two departments in the state with accreditation from the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

The accreditation requires the department to show they’re using the best methods for doing their jobs. This covers every aspect of the department from handling evidence to writing budgets.

“We’re doing overall just a better job following the policies and procedures because we have to prove it,” he said.

Roske also wants to continue the agency’s efforts to reach out to the community.

In recent years, the department built a social media following and implemented the Coffee with a Cop program. He wants to maintain the trust many in the community have put in the department.

“What we will do is continue with what we know is successful,” he said. “We know that our officers getting out of their cars and being a visible presence in the community is very important.”

Roske drove the department’s adoption of technology including putting computers and cameras in police cars and equipping officers body cameras.

All are aimed at making the public’s interaction with police easier. He said he’s committed to continuing to add technology that makes sense.

Preparing for growth

Pasco added nearly 15,000 people in the past eight years and it’s expecting to grow more.

“I think the challenge going forward is how we maintain that service level,” Roske said. “We’re adequately staffed now. The council has done a great job of giving us staffing a resources.”

“Never before has law enforcement been better trained,” he said. “... We’re bringing officers in with higher levels of education then ever before, and the selection criteria has never been higher. All of that translates into a more professional police department.”

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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.