Amendments vital to police oversight of Sheriff’s office

We have a critical opportunity to improve police accountability on the ballot.

  • Wednesday, October 21, 2020 6:55pm
  • Opinion

On this ballot, we will have a critical opportunity to improve police accountability by voting on four key amendments to the King County Charter. The County Charter is essentially our county constitution and every 10 years a citizen commission reviews the Charter and makes suggested changes. These four amendments were suggested by the Commission.

Proposed Amendment 5 would make the Sheriff’s position an appointed position to be appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council. Many voters intuitively think an elected position is more accountable but it actually is less accountable. The only way a Sheriff can be changed in between elections now is with a recall effort-a difficult and lengthy process requiring another election. An appointed Sheriff can be changed much more quickly. Additionally, 75% of the county currently voting for the Sheriff’s position is not policed by the Sheriff’s office (for example, Seattle voters where the police chief is appointed.). Those not policed by the Sheriff have more power than we in unincorporated King County! Also, because of the requirements to run for office, no one outside the office has ever run for Sheriff. If the Sheriff’s position is appointed, a nationwide recruitment could be used to find the most qualified candidate. Having an appointed Sheriff would de-politicize the position. Additionally, appointment would avoid the tensions of having a Sheriff’s employee-run against the Sheriff. The Commission was not commenting on the present Sheriff’s performance of her duties and the recommendation was made in 2019, prior to the events of 2020.

Proposed Amendment 6 would allow the County Council to change the duties of the Sheriff’s office or merge some of its functions into another department thereby giving it the flexibility to reimagine policing and public safety as many community activists are requesting. Currently, the Sheriff’s duties are set out in state law. Another change relates to negotiations with the Guild for officers. Currently, the Sheriff handles negotiations with the Guild. This amendment would have the County Executive do those negotiations which would avoid a major conflict of interest and again, serve the cause of changing policing.

Proposed Amendment 4 serves the public interest in holding the Sheriff’s office accountable by giving the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight the power to legally require the Sheriff’s office to provide evidence and documents and witnesses to testify. Subpoena is a standard power for investigative agencies to ensure that agencies have the information they need to render a full and fair decision.

Lastly, Proposed Amendment 1 clarifies the inquest process by stating that an inquest is required when the action, decision or neglect of a law enforcement officer contributed to a persons death, including deaths in detention facilities. The amendment would also provide public defenders to the family of the deceased to ensure that they understand the process and are heard. Currently, law enforcement has legal representation at County expense.

Please review your ballot and vote YES on Amendments 1, 4, 5 and 6. Thank you. For more information, see charterforjustice.com/overview.

— Bailey de Iongh




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