King County voters to decide on appointing sheriff, stripping powers from office

Jul 22, 2020, 7:32 AM | Updated: 9:03 am
Mitzi Johanknecht, King County Sheriff...
Mitzi Johanknecht is sworn in as the King County sheriff. (Hanna Scott/KIRO Radio)
(Hanna Scott/KIRO Radio)

King County voters will get the chance to give the county council significantly more power over the sheriff’s office in November. The council has approved two ballot measures: One would make the sheriff an appointee, and the other strips certain powers away from the agency as a whole.

King County Sheriff comments on bid to appoint, rather than elect position

King County has elected a sheriff since 1996, but voters will have the chance to change that in November. The council will ask voters if they believe the sheriff should be appointed. This is not a knee-jerk reaction to the latest civil unrest in the county, and was actually the recommendation the charter review board had already suggested after months of work.

“This proposed charter amendment is not about being upset with or against the police,” county councilmember Rod Dembowski said. “I think that debate is unappealing and is not accurate.”

Dembowski told the council that he is concerned the office has become way too political.

“This would enable a nationwide search to choose the very best top law enforcement officer,” he said. “It could very well be someone from within the department, but it may be someone that doesn’t want to be a politician.”

Dembowski also believes that Seattle plays too big of a role in electing the sheriff, and the politics of Seattle voters, who really aren’t served by the Sheriff’s Office, has way too much power in the decision-making process.

King County Sheriff’s Deputy placed on leave for social media posts

“Those of us who represent cities with the sheriff’s office, the cities themselves, and rural unincorporated and urban unincorporated residents, I think, could and should play a stronger role in determining the sheriff,” he said.

The second major change that will go to voters in November could strip the Sheriff’s Office of many of its duties. It would allow the county council to decide what the sheriff’s office can do; that’s currently decided at the state level. This would give the council the power to decide what sort of force deputies can use, how they make arrests, or how they serve warrants.

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King County voters to decide on appointing sheriff, stripping powers from office