Langley police chief retires after 32 years

True to the lawman tradition, Police Chief Bob Herzberg rode off quietly into the sunset this week after more than 32 years with the department.

True to the lawman tradition, Police Chief Bob Herzberg rode off quietly into the sunset this week after more than 32 years with the department.

Actually, it was into the sunrise. He left Thursday on a three-month road trip to the Southwest.

“He likes to chase the sun,” City Treasurer Debbie Mahler said.

In keeping with Herzberg’s reticent nature, he endured an official retirement party at city hall on Monday, his last day on the job, and an informal retirement gathering Wednesday attended by about 60 well-wishers and former colleagues at China City in Freeland.

The next morning, he and his wife Sue set out on vacation before more fuss could be made.

“It’s been a great ride,” Herzberg said Monday afternoon at city hall as he presented his replacement, acting chief Randy Heston, with the top cop’s badge.

“I started this job a long time ago, hoping I would make a difference,” Herzberg said.

By all accounts, he did.

“He was everything you ever wanted in a cop,” said Mahler, who worked at city hall with Herzberg for years. “He always treated everyone with dignity and respect, no matter who they were or what they’d done.”

Herzberg, a former youth counselor, joined the Langley Police Department as a patrol officer in late 1978.

“That was the last time his hair was dark,” Mahler said with a chuckle.

Langley’s population at the time was fewer than 600, and there were no overnight public accommodations, and no public marina.

Since then, the population has nearly doubled, and the police department at times has numbered as many as five, before budget constraints took hold.

In 1980, Herzberg attended the police academy and was promoted to chief, and he began setting in place his face-to-face philosophy of community policing that put emphasis on respect.

“As a sign of the understanding they promoted in the community,” said a Record report of Herzberg’s 15-year anniversary, “about 80 percent (of the people) they ticket thank them after the interchange.”

Through the years, Herzberg guided the one- and two-man department into the future, often being the only officer available.

“For years he couldn’t be sick,” Mahler said. “He was here working unless he was so sick he was falling down. And he was always on call.”

Herzberg’s police career spanned a third of the city’s lifetime. During that period, he mentored nearly 40 law enforcement officers who later moved on to other departments.

“Bob has a special way of treating people,” said Ryan Raulerson, a detective with the Issaquah Police Department who spent 10 years as a Langley officer.

“His influence reaches farther than the city of Langley,” Raulerson said. “It reaches to all the communities of the officers he trained. He invested a lot in me.”

“He was a great boss to work for,” echoed Leif Haugen, an Island County sheriff’s deputy who was a Langley officer for 15 years. “He had compassion for all people, including those we had to arrest.”

Those who butted heads with Herzberg in the city administration through the years also praised his levelheadedness and humanity.

Former mayor Neil Colburn navigated with Herzberg through five different city governments in the 20 years they spent on city business.

“Bob and I had our battles,” said Colburn, who spent 14 years as a city councilman and four years as mayor. “But you could disagree with him and still get along and act like adults after the meeting.”

“He was a fierce advocate for his department,” Colburn added. “What he wanted was a real-life police force, not a small-town, unequipped, behind-the-times police force. And that’s what he accomplished.”

“He worked for everybody’s mutual benefit,” agreed former mayor Lloyd Furman, who as mayor and city councilman worked with Herzberg from 1994 through 2003. “I think the community as a whole is going to miss him.”

Mahler is particularly impressed with Herzberg’s approach to the city’s young people.

“He helped a lot of kids turn their lives around, or take another path,” she said. “If you’re ever a recipient of a Chief Bob lecture, you remember it your entire life.”

City council chambers were packed on Monday with representatives of the local law enforcement community who came to see Herzberg step down and a new chief take his place.

The crowd included Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, former sheriff Mike Hawley and County Prosecutor Greg Banks.

Mayor Paul Samuelson read a proclamation establishing March as “Chief Herzberg Month.”

He called Herzberg “an inspiration … and a true example of a caring, dedicated police chief.”

Mahler said the Herzbergs plan to continue to live in Langley. They have three grown sons.

“He’s not sure what he’s going to do yet,” she said. “He’ll probably volunteer from time to time.”

After Monday’s ceremony, Herzberg went outside to his patrol car and got on his police radio to call dispatch one last time.

“Robert 1, I-COM, how do you copy?” Herzberg said, then made his last call.

“I would like to thank everyone that I’ve worked with for the past 32 years. I wish you God’s blessings, and keep you all safe. Robert 1 is out of service for the last time.”

Record writer Brian Kelly contributed to this report.

Listen to the chief of police’s final sign off here: