King County WA slaps controls on sheriff

By | November 12, 2020

Voters in King County, Washington just amended their county charter. Charter for Justice had endorsed the 7 amendments and all passed. Of note were three amendments to the charter that pertain to sheriffs and a fourth that applies to all law enforcement officers in the County.

According to the Seattle Times, the Charter Review Commission overwhelmingly recommended returning the sheriff to an appointed position. An appointed sheriff can now be replaced between elections in case of wrongdoing or incompetence, and it removes politics from administration of the department. In addition, an appointed position enables a national search for the best law enforcement and jail administration candidates.

Amendment 1 requires an inquest any time a prisoner dies in custody. And Amendment 6 gives the county discretion to redefine a sheriff’s duties — rather than giving carte blanche to a sheriff.

Finally, Amendment 4 gives teeth (and subpoena power) to King County’s civilian Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO).

Amendment Description Vote
1 – Inquests Require an inquest when a death occurs in a King County detention facility. Require an inquest when an action, decision, or possible failure to offer appropriate care by a member of a law enforcement agency might have contributed to a person’s death. Require King County to assign an attorney to represent the victim’s family in the inquest proceeding. 81%
4 – Oversight In 2015, King County voters established the civilian Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) to investigate, review, and analyze conduct of county law enforcement. However, at the moment they don’t have access to much of the information they need to conduct investigations. This amendment would give OLEO the power to subpoena witnesses, documents, and other evidence relating to its review and investigations. Any subpoenaed witnesses would have the right to be represented by an attorney. 83%
5 – Sheriffs to be appointed Returns the office of sheriff to an appointed position, to be appointed by the King County Executive and confirmed by the King County Council. Gives voice to those who can’t vote or who face serious barriers to voting. Requires community and stakeholder engagement throughout the appointment process. Allows for greater public oversight of county law enforcement. Increases the ability to implement reforms. Takes political money from the sheriff’s guild and the inherent conflict of interest out of the election process. Allows for prompt accountability rather than waiting years for an election and hoping there is a qualified alternative. 57%
6 – Public determines Sheriff’s duties Removes language from the 1996 Republican amendment that prevents alteration of sheriff’s office duties. Gives King County Council the authority to establish the duties and purpose of the Department of Public Safety. Enables King County to explore more effective public safety, rooted in community-based alternatives rather than the traditional criminal legal system. 63%