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By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

Sheriff sees new tasks

 


Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer can fill pages with his accomplishments during his first term in office—and he did in his announcement that he’s running for re-election. He made the announcement March 24 at the county Republican Party Lincoln Dinner to an appreciative crowd.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Songer says. “You’re accountable directly to the people who elected you. And you can get a lot more done in this position.”

In his written announcement statement, Songer listed 16 new programs or activities his office has implemented since he took office in January 2015. At the head of his list is making illegal drug enforcement top priority. As well, he eliminated the position of undersheriff and used the funds for that position to put more deputies on county roads “to maintain a safe level of staffing for deputies on each patrol shift.” Klickitat is a big county, so that move made a significant difference in police presence and more rapid availability of personnel. Also on his list are: better management of the county jail, establishing a sheriff’s posse (now with 125 members) as a community policing program, better employee morale, better working relations with in-county and neighboring law enforcement agencies (including commissioning other agency officers as special deputies), working with county schools to ensure safer student conditions, a firearms safety program for citizens, expanding hours of the sheriff’s office in White Salmon, and establishing an open-door policy of ready availability to anyone. By unofficial estimates, the changes are the most sweeping of any sheriff’s administration in the county in many a year.

“We have good working relationships with the union,” Songer points out, elaborating on his list. “We’ve got a good working relationship with the Board of County Commissioners and other elected officials in the courthouse.” That’s a big one—many people remember not that long ago when it seemed some departments in the county were just oil and water. “And I think one of the big things to keep building on is the relationship we have with the other law enforcement officials and officers. I have made a purpose to provide city law enforcement people with special deputy commissions when they go out into the county. They have full authority under my commission to enforce the law. I’m a realist. I know we don’t have a lot of money to hire a lot of people right now. So by commissioning these other agencies, when we need them out into the community, they’re covered under my commission.” Songer says there are places were law enforcement agencies rarely even speak to each other. “The only one who benefits from that situation is the bad guy,” he says.

There is a similar arrangement with the Inter-Tribal Fisheries Enforcement Agency, but the camaraderie stops short of the Yakama Nation. “There is still some contention there,” Songer recognizes. “[The tribe] wants to get a federal injunction against us from arresting Native Americans in the Glenwood valley, which they claim as Tract D. But our position, the position of the county, is that Tract D is not part of the reservation. I have no ill feelings against the police chief for the tribe. Our guys get along great with their guys. But I was extremely upset about that one case.”

Songer mentions the name of a specific Yakama Tribal police officer who was clearly identified as setting fire to an irrigation facility on the reservation. “I mean, this guy is in plain view on video in full uniform and his patrol car,” Songer recalls. “There’s no question who it is. And he’s pouring gasoline on this area and setting fire to it. And this was during a dry fire season. It’s a miracle that fire didn’t just sweep through the whole area.” The matter went to the FBI, then the Bureau of Indian Affairs, then to the U.S. Attorney. The Yakama Tribal police chief acknowledged that he told the officer in question to set the fire but stated he was only kidding when he said it. The case was never prosecuted. “I went ballistic over that,” Songer admits. “I think it was just political. I think they didn’t want to touch it because of the retrocession and Tract D issue. But right is right, wrong is wrong. You have evidence of a crime being committed and then do nothing about it.”

Songer wants to do more in a second term. “One thing I’d really like to add is a search dog,” he says. “The city has a drug dog, but there isn’t a dog for searching for people.” He cites a recent situation when a perpetrator took to the woods after a high-speed chase. “If we have a track dog, that can help track someone hiding out in the brush. And it can help locate lost people. We had one in Clark County, and it makes all the difference in the world.” Songer says a dog and training for it and its handler would probably cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

He also wants to do more with active shooter scenarios in the county. “We’re unique in a lot of ways,” he says. “Our schools are spread out throughout the county. If we have an active shooter at Roosevelt or Trout Lake or Klickitat, depending on where the officers are when that call goes out, it could be anywhere from 10 minutes to 30, 35 minutes before an officer arrives on the scene.” The ideal situation, he says, is to have an armed deputy in every school, but that’s not on an immediate horizon. Songer wants to train and arm certain people in the schools to serve as specially commissioned support—these would only be people who volunteered, underwent background checks, and received extensive firearm training. “They would go through tons of active shooter training,” he says. “Let’s say, God forbid, that we had somebody walk into a school shooting, who’s going to be the first to see that? Who’s going to be the first to be able to help while a deputy is 10 to 20 minutes out? If that school had someone trained on site, they can neutralize that situation immediately. You’re going to save some lives now.”

Songer says there’ll be more of his anti-drug signs out soon, too—and while he offered to include a phone number on them for anyone with a drug problem to get help, the agency involved said they preferred not to have their number on the sign.

 

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