WHILE the King County Sheriff’s Office might not be under federal monitoring like the Seattle Police Department, the county law-enforcement agency has had its share of troubling incidents that demand change.
Most notable was a 2012 shooting in which a sheriff’s deputy, along with a state Department of Corrections officer, shot an unarmed man 16 times while arresting another man, a felon violating parole. The county settled with the man, Dustin Theoharis, for $3 million.
A county firearms review board ruled the shooting justified but the sheriff’s office received scathing criticism for the way it handled the shooting investigation.
In the aftermath, Sheriff John Urquhart has added required training and changed the way the department investigates use-of-force incidents.
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The sheriff appears to be moving quickly and he should, guided by stinging criticism of the department contained in four separate outside audits and reviews into the shooting.
The new mandatory training for deputies focuses on searches and seizures, protective sweeps, and other crime-related work.
The Sheriff’s Office will also conduct separate but parallel criminal and administrative investigations following police shootings and other incidents involving significant use of force.
The criminal review mirrors a homicide investigation and looks for criminal wrongdoing. The second looks at whether department rules and procedures were followed.
The King County Police Officers Guild must approve, and should, a faster timeline for taking statements from deputies involved in shootings. Currently, the department must wait 72 hours. A quicker timeline will aid in getting fresher facts and reassure the public that the department is not stalling.
After Theoharis’ shooting, Urquhart has dramatically changed the approach to the county’s work with the state Department of Corrections to reflect the fact that the two agencies operate under different laws. Urquhart has also restarted weekly “roll call” sessions where officers spend one hour with their supervisors reviewing police policy and procedures. There was no supervisor on the scene when Theoharis was shot. More supervisors are in the field now.
The sheriff also deserves credit for choosing Anne Kirkpatrick as his second-in-command. She was formerly a police chief for 15 years, including in Spokane. Kirkpatrick has a sense of what King County and the SPD are undergoing, since she led the Spokane Police Department through its own Department of Justice and court scrutiny.
Urquhart appears to be taking the right steps.