OP-ED: The citizens of King County deserve to elect their Sheriff
By Brendan Kolding
King County voters are being asked to vote on two referenda that would impact local law enforcement. Charter Amendment 5, if approved, would give the King County Council the authority to appoint the sheriff, stripping the position of its status as an elected office. Charter Amendment 6 seeks to give the Council more control over the Sheriff’s Office than it currently has with its budgeting authority, to include collective bargaining. Both of these referenda would be detrimental to public safety across the most heavily-populated county in Washington.
Let us talk about the role of the county sheriff. Per RCW 36.28.010, “The sheriff is the chief executive officer and conservator of the peace of the county.” This is a tradition that can be traced back to ancient England, when the king would appoint a “shire reeve” to keep order in each district of the kingdom. Although the sheriff is the top law enforcement officer in each county, incorporated cities are responsible for funding law enforcement within their jurisdiction. Bigger cities, like Seattle and Bellevue, usually opt to manage their own police departments under the supervision of a chief that is hired by the mayor and ratified by the city council. Many medium to small cities, such as Burien and Shoreline, contract with the county sheriff for law enforcement services. Either way, the elected sheriff is responsible for policing the entire county and is answerable to the voters, even those who live in a city that operates its own police department. County law enforcement agencies are usually called a “sheriff’s office” instead of a “department” because the sheriff is just that: an elected office that enjoys a certain amount of autonomy rather than a department that falls under other elected officials. The sheriff is selected by the voters and has to answer to them every four years without undue influence from the small but vocal activist class that has been advocating for de-policing and defunding law enforcement.
By having the right to elect their sheriff, the ignored majority in King County can express their priorities and values as they relate to public safety. But the King County Council, inspired by the success the Seattle City Council has had with allowing the activist agenda to run roughshod over the Seattle Police Department and public safety in Seattle, wants to deprive the voters of this right and seize control of the King County Sheriff’s Office. Their motives are very clear: install someone they can control as sheriff and limit his authority until he is effectively castrated. They know the voters will never elect someone who comports with their agenda.
Effective law enforcement, especially during these tumultuous times, requires strong leadership from knowledgeable professionals who are not encumbered by elected officials with an agenda different than the general will of the citizens. The majority of voters in King County value public safety and support pro-police candidates. (Remember, most of the Seattle City Council members who were elected last year claimed to support effective law enforcement during the campaign because that is what they had to do to win. Once in office, they did an about-face, and over the summer we saw CHAZ/CHOP, the temporary abandonment of the East Precinct, and other mayhem across the city.)
What we are experiencing across the country (I want to be perfectly clear that this problem is not particular to Seattle or King County) is a frightening movement to defund law enforcement against the popular will.
King County voters must keep that in mind and not cede their right to select their own sheriff to the County Council.
"... limit his authority until he is effectively castrated." Guess you've forgotten -- or perhaps you never knew -- that our current sheriff is a woman.
Please re-read that entire sentence. I am not talking about the current sheriff.
Brendan Kolding, you are a or at least were a cop, you also have tried to run for office, so it is obvious why you would promote this perspective. You failed to mention that most of the people served by the sheriff in King County live in areas that are racially diverse and are located outside of Seattle and other areas that have low voter turnout -- so electing the sheriff is done by people the sheriff does not serve. Also the King County sheriff used to be appointed until the police guilds railroaded the people and pushed for the elected system so they could control law enforcement in their own interests. The current system ensures the police guilds select and drive the election of the sheriff, not the community, not issues of need or diversity, and it also the system today does not consider outcomes of performance and how much a sheriff fails to meet expectations of the public for a PUBLIC SERVANT. It is a totally biased and inequitable system that promotes business as usual practices that never benefit people of color or low income people.
Time for a change -- Police Guilds should not create a law enforcement system that is only for cops and not for community.