‘Not very transparent,’ King County councilmember says of search for new sheriff
With three finalists in the running to become King County’s next sheriff, one county councilmember is concerned that the selection process– the first time the King County Sheriff has been appointed since 1996– is lacking transparency.
From a pool of 12 applicants, King County Executive Dow Constantine, in tandem with the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), has announced three finalists for King County’s next sheriff: King County interim Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall; Charles Kimble, chief of police in Killeen, Texas; and Reginald Moorman, a major in the Atlanta Police Department.
In 2020, King County voters decided to transition the position of King County Sheriff back to a selection committee; previously, the role was an elected one.
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn is concerned that the appointment process has been ideologically slanted, citing the role of the PSAC — which represents a broad swath of political viewpoints — in whittling down the candidate pool.
While the committee retains representatives from the King County Police Officer’s Guild and the Puget Sound Police Managers Association, a number of other positions are occupied by vocal proponents of police reform.
DeVitta Biscoe, a PSAC board member, facilitator for Collective Justice, and member of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, said in 2021 that a series of police reform legislation pieces passed that year were deliberately misinterpreted by police as part of a “coordinated political attack, where officers are refusing to do their job and falsely blame the defund movement.”
Broadly, law enforcement held that the legislation curtailed the investigations process by placing too many limits on the use of force under 2021’s HB 1310.
“The term ‘physical force’ is not defined in E2SHB 1310 or in the law more generally, and therefore there is significant uncertainty as to its meaning … the more likely reading of E2SHB 1310 is that officers may only use physical force under the circumstances listed in the statute. Therefore, the statute precludes an officer from using physical force in the context of an investigatory detention based solely on reasonable suspicion, even if the individual does not comply with the request to stop,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson offered of HB 1310 as passed by the Legislature.
That legislation was amended in the 2022 session which granted police more authority to conduct “Terry stops,” which allow police to investigate criminal activity without employing use of force.
HB 2037 allows officers “to protect against a criminal offense when there is probable cause that a person has committed or is committing” a crime, as well as in instances where someone is fleeing a “temporary investigative detention,” better known as a Terry stop. The bill also qualifies that by prohibiting the use of force during Terry stops where a person is complying with an officer.
While Dunn was not able to disclose details of which pieces of information he would need to resolve the transparency problem, he spoke generally to a lack of timeliness of information submitted to the council as the three finalists undergo more exacting selection.
“The process has not been very transparent, and it concerns me. We haven’t had a lot of access to information. It’s been very closely held by the Public Safety Advisory Committee, which is already slanted towards activists,” Dunn told KTTH’s Jason Rantz.
Without the usual input of 2.3 million King County voters, Dunn sees upcoming public forums, held virtually, as an opportunity to better vet sheriff candidates within the content of a metro area that reported 1,405 shots fired incidents in 2021, a 54% increase compared to the four-year average between 2017-2020.
“This is a very, very significant appointment by the executive and confirmation by the council. Think about when we do an election for sheriff. I mean, that’s a year-long process. There are primaries, general elections, debates, editorial boards, forums, and town halls,” Dunn offered.
“We’re going to do this in a couple of meetings,” he added. “So we need to learn a lot about these individuals in a short period of time.”
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