Voters will decide on reforms at King County Sheriff’s Office

KING COUNTY, Wash. — King County voters will find two key issues are right on the front of their King County ballots.

Charter Amendment 5 changes the county sheriff from an elected to an appointed position. Charter Amendment 6 gives King County City Council members and the county executive the power to prescribe the duties that deputies will and will not perform.

These would be the biggest changes in the King County Sheriff’s Office since the office moved from an appointed sheriff to an elected sheriff in 1996.

Supporters of an elected sheriff say the move is a response to the tens of thousands of people who marched for greater accountability from law enforcement.

“In an era where our constituents are asking us to have more oversight, more checks and balances, having more independence is not the direction that we want to go when it comes specifically to law enforcement,” said Council member Girmay Zahilay, chair of the council’s Law and Justice committee.

But those who support an elected sheriff remember former Seattle police Chief Carmen Best saying it was not her idea to abandon the East Precinct during the height of the protests. But she was appointed and had to answer to political leaders.

“I never want to have a criminal justice person who is an expert make a decision like that because of political reasons. It should not be political reasons. She knew that that was not the right decision for her department and for the safety of the citizens,” said Council member Kathy Lambert.

Charter Amendment 6 would allow the county’s council and executive to re-imagine the department, removing functions that they don’t believe require a badge and a gun.

“The cities that are contract cities are all very happy with the service they are getting. And I have not gotten questions from our mayors, our City Council members that we have a problem,” said Lambert.

Zahilay responded, “People want a diverse menu of possible responses to the various emergencies and nonemergencies that they call about when they dial 911. Right now, the King County Council does not have that kind of policy instruction over the sheriff’s office.”

Thousands have demanded law enforcement reform. The charter amendments on the ballot will indicate how far voters are willing to go.