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King County Sheriff on reason she shut down crucial law enforcement tool

Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht. (KIRO Radio)

Back in August, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht cut off her department’s access to LInX, an information-sharing tool used among law enforcement agencies. Roughly two weeks later, LInX access was restored, and many were left wondering why such an important tool was shut down in the first place.

Sheriff Johanknecht has since noted that access was originally cut off due to concerns LInX violated a King County ordinance, that restricts it from sharing information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In July, King County was found to have violated that ordinance, having given ICE agents access to personal information of people booked into jails, and requested case files in the King County Sheriff’s Office.

With LInX, the temporary shutdown in August was a measure to ensure the county didn’t make the same mistake twice.

Rantz: Crucial law enforcement tool returns to deputies after ICE uproar

“I want to make sure that the tools we use are in effect going to work under the ordinance,” Johanknecht told KTTH’s Jason Rantz. “I got to thinking about the LInX database, and what that might mean, and so I shut it down with the opportunity to get back online as soon as possible.”

On August 29, the sheriff emailed staff to inform them that LInX access was being restored, and that it did not in fact violate the King County ordinance.

I want to thank all of you for your patience as we have worked, on several fronts, to re-establish our membership with LinX.

It was never my intention to permanently withdraw from LinX, instead the decision to temporarily withdraw was made out of an abundance of caution. After a recent King County audit determined the Sheriff’s Office had violated King County Code 2.15 by supplying documents to ICE, I became concerned about potential misuse of the LinX database.

A deeper legal review, and consultation with the County Council, has determined that our use of LinX does not violate the King County ordinance. I am grateful to the Councilmembers and their central staff for working closely with us over the last couple of weeks to reach this conclusion.

We hope to have your access to LinX restored as soon as tomorrow.

Discussions with LinX Northwest continue in hopes of creating a more permanent solution to prevent use of this important criminal database for civil immigration enforcement.

Moving forward we will continue to operate with compassion toward our immigrant and refugee populations.

What Johanknecht does regret about the process was a breakdown in communication, that had many people initially concerned that the loss of a crucial law enforcement tool in LInX would be permanent.

“I can always do a better job of communicating,” she noted. “And sure, I should have should have been probably a little bit more proactive, but I was also concerned that if I didn’t take action, that I would have left the organization in a bad place. I think in the long run, it ends up being a good learning opportunity for me — I’ve always wanted to learn new things and get better at what I do.”

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