by Paul Kiefer
A pair of amendments to the King County charter on the ballot next month open a door for significant reshaping of the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). The measures have sparked two opposition campaigns — one closely tied to the King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG), which represents sheriff’s officers — that have cast the amendments as radical attacks on law enforcement, while the measures have received limited vocal support from the most prominent local police accountability advocates.
The first amendment, Charter Amendment 5, would make the King County Sheriff an appointed, rather than elected, position. The second, Charter Amendment 6, would grant the King County Council the ability to set the structure and duties of the sheriff rather than relying on the duties specified in the state code. While the amendments’ sponsors, including council members Rod Dembowski and Girmay Zahilay (who wrote a PubliCola op ed supporting it), crafted the ballot measures to stand independently of one another, their practical implications and political significance have bonded the two measures together. In fact, in a July 14th council meeting, council member Claudia Balducci called them the legislative equivalent of a “Reese’s peanut butter cup”: a natural pair.
For their most vocal proponents, namely Dembowski and Zahilay, the amendments are vital steps towards an accountable sheriff’s office with a more appropriate scope of duties and a sheriff that better represents the needs of the King County residents they serve. The opponents of the amendments, including the sheriff’s guild, cast the measures as part of the broader “defund” movement to undermine law enforcement and as a power grab by the executive and the council.
As contemporary as those arguments may seem, they’re part of a longstanding debate in King County. In November, voters will face a choice between two paths for KCSO; both have been tested in the county before, and neither has transformed the department in the ways the amendments’ opponents fear or the ways their champions hope.