KING COUNTY, Wash — After a summer of racial reckoning and calls for police reform, voters in King County have passed a pair of ballot measures that will reshape the King County Sheriff’s Office.
King County Charter Amendment 5 will move the sheriff from an elected position to an appointed position, much like how chiefs are appointed in police departments. It passed with almost 56% of voters saying yes.
King County Charter Amendment 6 gives the county council the ability to reduce the sheriff’s duties and power. It passed with a little more than 62% of the vote.
“I think we’ve seen a demand for increased oversight, increased accountability. Not a demand for perfection. We’re still human beings. But we got to stop having these shootings and killings of unarmed civilians,” said King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski.
Dembowski supported both measures.
He mentioned Tommy Le, the Burien man who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in 2017. Deputies responded to reports of a man armed with a knife, but they later discovered that Le had a pen. Dembowski said the voter-approved Charter Amendment 6 could be a first step that may prevent other deaths like Le’s.
“For example when you call 911 — police or fire. But maybe you’ve got a person having a behavioral health crisis or they’re just a homeless person living in their car and somebody calls 911. Maybe that response requires a different, a third choice,” Dembowksi explained.
Instead of an elected sheriff, a position which has been in place since 1996, the sheriff will instead be appointed by the county executive and approved by the county council.
“It’s good government. It makes sense,” said Kinnon Williams, a charter review commissioner.
Williams said a nationwide search will help get the best candidate.
“Artificially restricting [the] candidate pool to a group of citizens that are willing to run for a position — an elected position here — doesn’t necessarily get you the best person,” Williams added.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn opposed both amendments and led the campaign to defeat them.
“But the vote was so overwhelming in the urban core and Seattle that it over[ran] the more rural vote. And you know it’s the way the ball bounces in Seattle and King County, but unfortunately I think the policy is particularly bad as it’s going to impact rural and suburban citizens,” Dunn said.
Dunn worries the changes from Charter Amendment 6 will lead to defunding the sheriff’s office.
“It’s bad policy, but unfortunately voters are going to have to see how that affects crime rates over the next several years,” Dunn said.
King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht will serve out the rest of her term. It goes through next year.
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