New King County Sheriff lays out plan to build trust between community and law enforcement

King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall is already making history as the first Black woman to serve as sheriff in Washington state.

Now, her job is to change the course of public safety in one of the nation’s biggest counties.

Cole-Tindall recently sat down with KIRO 7′s Aaron Wright to lay out her plan.

“I look at myself and yes, it’s not lost on me that I am the first Black female sheriff for the entire state of Washington, the first Black sheriff for King County,” Cole-Tindall said. “But you know, I’m so much more than that, right? I bring so much more than that. And so but what I would say to any young girl, young woman is you can do it, whatever you want to do.”

Cole-Tindall served as undersheriff during a tumultuous time in the country, when the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police sparked protests nationwide.

“Having these conversations with my own two children who are adults, and seeing what happened — and I say this all the time — that I don’t believe what happened to George Floyd would happen here in this agency,” she said. “I just don’t. Our people are trained very well. We know in this state, we train on de-escalation … I believe those other officers stood by and watched [Derek] Chauvin do what he did to George Floyd because they didn’t feel empowered to step in.”

The King County Sheriff’s Office is not without its own controversies. They’ve paid $5 million and $2.5 million, respectively, to the families of two men killed by deputies in recent years — Tommy Le, who was killed in 2017, and Anthony Chilcott, who was killed in 2019.

Among Cole-Tindall’s big goals is bridging the gap between law enforcement and parts of the community who feel prejudice from, and like they are a target of, the criminal justice system.

“We know this to be true across the country — there’s a different experience for people of color with the police,” Cole-Tindall said. “I think we all need to evolve the criminal legal system, and [think about] how can we better and more equitably serve our communities.”

When asked about the idea of the sheriff’s office having become political for some of her predecessors and how she plans to prevent that from happening with her tenure, Cole-Tindall simply said she is not a political person.

“Had this been an elected sheriff, I would not have [run],” she said. “That’s not who I am. I’m a career public servant.”

A new report from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said violent crime is up more than 12% across the state. Between January 1 through the end of June, King County saw 137 incidents of gun violence.

“When I think about that, that’s a lot,” Cole-Tindall said. “And when I look at the month of June specifically, we had one a day. So that’s incredible.”

Law enforcement agencies across the nation are facing challenges in recruiting officers and keeping them on the job. Cole-Tindall said her agency has about 660 deputies — 120 short of being fully staffed.

“So it’s a struggle to make sure we have enough bodies on the street to have that presence, which can deter crimes,” Cole-Tindall said. “How do we reallocate the resources that we have? How does the community want us to allocate the resources we have to provide public safety?

“And I do think that most of our people that we provide service for want more deputies, not less. They want more.”

Cole Tindall has also said she wants her deputies wearing body cameras. On top of dealing with data storage, the county would need to hire about eight workers to manage the data and video requests.

But before any of that can happen, the county and the deputies union need to come to an agreement to allow them to wear body cameras.