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By Lou Marzeles

Deputy sheriff announces intention to run for sheriff in 2014


Lou Marzeles

DECLARING EARLY: Bob Songer plans to run for Klickitat County Sheriff in 2014.

In an interview with The Sentinel last week, Robert Songer, a current Klickitat County Deputy Sheriff and a 40-year veteran of law enforcement service, announced his intention to run for Klickitat County Sheriff in 2014.

“It is some distance away,” Songer admits. “I’ve given it some serious thought, and I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I have had some people approach me, citizens in the community as well as officers within the department. I had heard rumors that there might be other people running as well. I thought, “Well, if I wait until the 11th hour to announce, then I’ll miss a lot of opportunity and supporters I might have gotten who would have gone with someone else. So that’s one of the motivators to run, and come out early and announce.”

Songer currently serves as the county’s Timber and Range Deputy for the Sheriff’s Office, a position he has held since 2000. As Timber and Range Deputy, Songer and one other range deputy patrol 1,700 square miles of Klickitat County. His previous law enforcement career includes stints as Undersheriff of Clark County for more than 20 years and another four years as Chief of Police in the city of Elko, Nev. At Elko he headed a 52-employee department with an annual budget of $3.2 million. As second in command in Clark County, Songer worked in a department with 281 employees, 130 sworn officers, 104 corrections officers, and managed an annual budget of $14 million. He also supervised the 350-bed Clark County jail and managed the county sheriff’s media and public affairs activities.

Songer is announcing his decision to run for Sheriff even as he is employed by a sitting sheriff (Rick McComas). He says he advised McComas both of his decision to run and his intention to hold an interview with The Sentinel beforehand. Songer adds that he will not get into department business or issues.

“I want to stay above that, to be quite honest with you,” he says. “But morale is not the best, and that is one of the factors, one of the reasons I am running. I believe I can make a change within the department for the positive. I believe I have the experience with a number of years in law enforcement, including 14 years in top management of law enforcement. I have handled budgets.”

He adds that he does not speculate on whether or not McComas will run again. “The only person who could answer that is the sheriff,” he says. “But probably the second reason I’m announcing now is in the event that he doesn’t run. I need to announce early, let the public in Klickitat County know that I am interested. Ultimately, of course, they’re going to make the decision on who gets the job. But I believe I can make a difference.”

Songer wants to bring a number of innovations to the sheriff’s office. “One of the things that I’d really like to see, and I’m prone to doing that in my past positions,” he says, “is community policing. That means you have the community more involved in the department. You involve the community through various programs. As an expansion to crime prevention, you put on training for crime-watch captains. You have citizen ride-along programs, so they can get a feel for what the departments are doing. I believe strongly in community involvement.”

Public involvement in a police department, Songer feels, is a key factor in how successful it is. “If the department does not reach out to the public and get their involvement in the agency—because they own the agencies; they pay your salaries—short of that, there’s a lack of communications between the citizens and the departments, and you’re not going to be very effective,” he says. “In my opinion, if you have citizen involvement within your agency, and you have the various community policing programs, such as the crime-watch program, and you get the citizens involved, you would have a much better and more effective law enforcement agency.”

Community surveys about the performance of the sheriff’s department would also be useful, Songer considers. “One of the first things I would do is a survey,” he states. “I would send out an evaluation survey for the department. I would go through the press to do that, put on a half-page survey. People could respond anonymously if they want; sometimes you get more honesty that way. But have them respond back. What they would like to see the sheriff’s department do for them? Do they think the sheriff’s department is not delivering the services that they expected? And to be critical and straightforward with that information. Gather that up, have a time limit, have a response period to get it back to the sheriff’s office.”

While he’s not big on committees—sometimes they can be counterproductive, he feels—he still thinks they can be useful on occasion. “For example,” he contemplates, “one of the things I intend to do as soon as I was to be elected is, I would create an advisory committee. It would be a cross-section of respected citizens throughout Klickitat County.”

Evaluations from such a committee could be very helpful for a sheriff, Songer feels. “Say you sit down with this committee, and they evaluate,” he says. “Ultimately the sheriff is going to make the decisions; that’s where the buck stops. The people elected that sheriff to be responsible to make those decisions.” He feels that officer safety especially cannot be compromised. “But I think the sheriff can make better decisions if he has input from the community.”

Songer places high emphasis on transparency in the sheriff’s office. “I am a firm believer that the tax payers are paying for that department,” he states. “Obviously if we’re into an investigation, there will be certain things that will be confidential pending that investigation. But as far as the operation of the department, there’s nothing confidential about that.”

Training in a sheriff’s office is of critical importance, Songer feels—along with wanting to do the right thing. With Klickitat County officers, Songer considers, they are already among the best. “I would stack the men and women in this department up against any of the other departments I have worked with,” he says. “They are that well trained. And in order to minimize liability, you have to continue the training. It’s an ongoing process. So those are the other high priorities.”

Songer adds that maintaining regular communication with the media is important as a way to keep the public informed. “I believe the public has a right to know,” he says. “If an arrest is made, there should be a daily log that the press has access of who was arrested, what the charges were, if there is a pending investigation. They can’t go into much more detail than that, but the media at least has to have something to go with.”


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