YAKIMA, Wash. — Deputy sheriff Steve Changala on Thursday became the first candidate to announce he’s running for Yakima County sheriff.

Changala, who currently works on patrol in the Lower Valley, said when Sheriff Ken Irwin announced his retirement plans earlier this month, he decided to take a run at the office.

“It’s always been an ambition that I’ve had throughout my whole career to someday be sheriff,” Changala said.

The 52-year-old started his law enforcement career in 1984 as an officer for the Union Gap Police Department and joined the sheriff’s office in 1989.

Changala said Irwin has done a lot of good things for the department, and he hopes to continue that while focusing on increased training departmentwide.

“I have a lot of experience with what we do out on the road as deputies, and one of my goals would be to increase training for deputies and improve relationship between deputies and community,” he said. “That starts with training and supervision.”

Under Irwin, the department came under fire for its investigation of the murders of three members of a West Valley family and for failing to properly investigate a reported assault of a woman by a her estranged husband, a Yakima County sheriff’s deputy who later committed suicide in jail.

Murder charges were dropped against the prime suspect in the West Valley case and the county in December settled a lawsuit brought by the deputy’s former wife for $250,000.

Changala declined to comment on specifics about those cases and whether or not mistakes were made, saying he was not involved. But he said that in general, a greater emphasis on training and supervision of deputies will improve their investigative skills and reduce situations that put the department at risk of lawsuits.

An increased emphasis on training could be accomplished without additional resources, he said, enforcing the policies and procedures the department already has in place.

A married father of five, Changala tends cows and alfalfa on a farm outside Wapato when he is not working as a deputy. He will retire from the department in May to focus on the campaign, but his last day on patrol will be in February.

“The end of one adventure and the start of another,” Changala said. “I’m excited to get started out there campaigning and looking forward to the election.”