King County, WA – King County residents have voted to give up their right to elect their sheriff, and handed their power over to the county executive instead.
Charter Amendment 5 passed with 56 percent of the vote, which means the King County Executive will now have the authority to appoint the county’s sheriff with the King County Council’s approval, KING reported.
The sheriff of King County had been an elected position for 14 years prior to last week’s vote.
King County Executive Dow Constantine claimed that putting the county executive and the council in charge of choosing the sheriff instead of citizens will help improve police accountability, KING reported.
The Washington State Sheriff’s Association (WSSA) disagrees, and argued that the power to select the county’s sheriff should remain in the hands of the residents.
“The accountability and responsiveness of an elected Sheriff is critical to public safety in our communities,” WSSA President Tom Jones wrote in a letter to the Save Our Sheriff Committee on Oct. 20. “Sheriffs are, and should remain, directly accountable to the people.”
In addition to giving up their right to elect their sheriff, a staggering 62 percent King County voters also approved Charter Amendment 6, which gives the county council the power to reduce the sheriff’s power and duties, KIRO reported.
“I think we’ve seen a demand for increased oversight, increased accountability,” King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski told KIRO. “We got to stop having these shootings and killings of unarmed civilians.”
Dembowski told Crosscut that voters “want a law enforcement system that reflects our values, and we think an important way to get there is to take down some of these barriers.”
Charter Review Commissioner Kinnon Williams said the county will find better candidates by conducting a nationwide search for the next King County Sheriff.
“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 opined.
According to King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, those who voted in favor of the amendments tended to live in the county’s urban areas.
Dunn also expressed concern that Charter Amendment 6 will serve as a catalyst to defund the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).
“The vote was so overwhelming in the urban core and Seattle that it over[ran] the more rural vote,” Dunn told King County. “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.”
Dembowski argued that the King County has become a more urban area, and that many aspects of a sheriff are essentially “relics” of the Wild West, Crosscut reported.
“I think urban counties and progressive counties are just in a different place than our more rural counties,” he said. “There’s sadly something in the sheriffs where you have these sheriffs saying they are the law of the land. That’s just not where King County is.”
Constantine and Dembowski both said they have nothing against current King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, but they also noted that conducting a nationwide search for the next sheriff would help them to find the best person possible for the job, Crosscut reported.
Sheriff Johanknecht’s term is slated to expire at the end of 2021.
KCSO Captain Stan Seo said it is unfortunate that voters have chosen to relinquish their opportunity to select the county’s sheriff.
“I’m confused as to why one would give up their opportunity to vote and make choices and hold people accountable and support candidates who are willing to run for office,” Capt. Seo said told Crosscut. “It’s unfortunate. I hope the county council does the right thing, but from my perspective, oftentimes that’s not the case and they don’t represent the voices of the people.”
King County is the first county in the state of Washington to make the sheriff an appointed position.