Report finds racial disparities in uses of force, arrests by King County Sheriff’s Office

SEATTLE — A King County Auditor’s Office report released Tuesday identified racial disparities in King County Sheriff’s Office interactions on calls for service.

Auditors found that the sheriff’s office does not collect sufficient demographic information to identify and address the causes of these disparities, with information on the racial identities of people stopped by officers only available for about 4% of interactions.

But in the calls for service where the sheriff’s office did collect data on race, officers arrested Black people at rates nearly four times higher than expected, given their proportion of the county’s population.

The report, which analyzed data from 2019 to 2021, also states that white officers used force twice as often as Black or Asian officers and that both Black and Hispanic people were subjected to uses of force more often than white people.

“Data show concerning racial disparities in uses of force and arrests in King County, similar to disparities other jurisdictions are finding,” said King County Auditor Kymber Waltmunson. “It is encouraging that the sheriff’s office concurred with our recommendations and plans to explore further to identify and address the causes of disparities.”

As a result of its findings, the auditor’s office recommends that the King County Council should consider amending an ordinance that may currently prohibit the sheriff’s office from collecting perceived race data.

This ordinance, King County Code 2.15, was originally passed in 2018 to ensure that the county’s data was not used to assist with federal deportation efforts. But it may have unintentionally limited the sheriff’s office’s ability to assess and reduce racial disparities in calls for service.

It also recommends that the sheriff’s office should develop and implement a policy that officers collect data on perceived race for all calls for service.

“Each year, the Sheriff’s Office receives around 150,000 dispatched calls for service and officers initiate another 200,000 calls,” the report reads in part. “How officers interact with the community during these calls can have profound impacts on both the individuals involved and the public at large.”

The auditor’s office acknowledged that the sheriff’s office has taken steps to improve its data analysis capabilities in recent years, but it must work to have more comprehensive data and reporting so the county can develop strategies to better address the causes of racial disparities.