John Urquhart, the former media spokesman for the King County Sheriff's Office, said he plans to go right to work when he takes office Wednesday.
John Urquhart said there won’t be time for a party or small talk after he officially becomes King County sheriff on Wednesday morning. He plans to be at work 15 minutes after he’s sworn in at 9 a.m.
“My role is that I’m the bus driver. It’s my job to have the right people on the bus,” Urquhart said. “We clearly have things that need to be addressed.”
Urquhart, 64, the department’s former longtime media spokesman, beat out incumbent Steve Strachan earlier this month with more than 56 percent of the vote. He’s trading in his sergeant stripes for a new uniform at the agency that employed him between 1988 and his retirement in February.
Urquhart will serve a one-year term before facing a general election to replace former Sheriff Sue Rahr, who resigned earlier this year.
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Urquhart’s successful campaign targeted Strachan, accusing him of gutting the department’s internal-affairs division, shuffling paperwork around so civilian complaints were not addressed and failing to properly investigate officer-involved shootings.
Both candidates said their top focus was bolstering oversight of the Sheriff’s Office and improving how it investigates use-of force complaints against deputies. Both said they planned to follow the list of recommendations, approved this fall by the Metropolitan King County Council, that emerged from two recent critical consultants’ reports.
Consultants found that the Sheriff’s Office needs a new review board, possibly with a citizen member, to correct serious flaws in the way it examines shootings and other use-of-force incidents by deputies.
But precisely what Urquhart plans to do is unclear. He will say only that he needs to learn more about what’s going on inside the agency. With money tight, he says he needs to prioritize the department’s functions to “find out what we do or don’t need.”
“Any changes will be evolutionary, not revolutionary,” he said.
Urquhart plans to spend his first two days as sheriff in meetings with deputies and in mediation hearings involving a recent $9 million claim filed against the county by three veteran female detectives in the Sexual Assault Unit. The women allege they were victims of rampant acts of sexual harassment and verbal abuse under three sergeants over many years.
Urquhart says he also plans to contact Jenny Durkan, the Seattle-based U.S. attorney for Western Washington, to establish a strong relationship.
During the campaign, Urquhart speculated that the Department of Justice could launch a probe of the Sheriff’s Office because of lax use-of-force oversight and accountability.
Now that he’s been elected, however, Urquhart says he doubts a federal investigation will occur.
Durkan’s office declined to comment.
Urquhart readily admits that he’s had no experience running a police department or even heading a major bureau.
However, he said he plans to rely on his former boss, ex-King County Sheriff and current Congressman Dave Reichert, for advice in running the nearly 1,000-employee agency. He also plans to lean on former Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, whom he has named as his second-in-command.
Reichert said he recently met with Urquhart, who was his media spokesman when Reichert was sheriff from 1997 to 2004.
“He really needs to listen. To look them (deputies) in the eye and to know that what they’re saying is meaningful,” Reichert said. “My reputation was that I was tough but fair. Sometimes you’ll have to make tough decisions, what discipline measures to take.”
Reichert said Urquhart “doesn’t beat around the bush.” The former sheriff backed Urquhart during the campaign.
“The biggest thing for me in coming out in favor of John is he has a heart for this job. He has a heart for the people,” Reichert said. “I may have been a little more diplomatic than John, but people are going to appreciate his straightforward approach.”
Kirkpatrick first must pass a polygraph and other tests required before joining the Sheriff’s Office as chief deputy. Urquhart expects she will be on the job in December.
Kirkpatrick previously served as police chief in Ellensburg and Federal Way before joining the Spokane department in 2006. She left the Spokane job in January amid criticism for her handling of the investigation of the death of a mentally disabled janitor at the hands of officers after his arrest on suspicion of stealing money from an ATM in March 2006.
Strachan, meanwhile, said Monday he is tying up loose ends in King County before he leaves the job he’s held since April, when he was appointed to fill former Sheriff Rahr’s job until the November election.
Strachan, 47, declined to say where he planned to go, other than noting, “I’ve got some irons in the fire.” He has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2011.
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.