The finalists to be King County’s next sheriff answered questions from the media Tuesday, discussing how they would engage with the community and lead a department of about 800 officers, but one that has struggled to recruit recently and has been involved in a spate of fatal shootings.
All three finalists, even the current interim sheriff, presented themselves as a shift from the status quo who could bring cultural change to the department.
King County Executive Dow Constantine will pick the next sheriff from among the three finalists (12 people applied for the job, in a nationwide search), and his choice must be approved by the Metropolitan King County Council.
The finalists are interim King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, who has been the leader since Jan. 1, after a 30-year career in and out of law enforcement; Charles Kimble, chief of police in Killeen, Texas, who has spent three decades working for police departments across the country; and Reginald Moorman, a major in the Atlanta Police Department, where he has spent his 21-year career.
Constantine plans to make his choice in May, with council approval likely coming by the summer.
The three candidates spoke, consecutively, via Zoom with reporters Tuesday.
The Sheriff’s Office has had to pay several multimillion-dollar settlements in recent years after fatal shootings by deputies. The county’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight has repeatedly found fault in how the department has handled the shootings.
All three candidates stressed their ability, either as an outsider, or as a nontraditional candidate, to change the department’s culture.
“I’m not the status quo,” said Cole-Tindall, 57, who’s spent most of her career outside of law enforcement. “I am a nontraditional law enforcement executive. I didn’t come up through the ranks, my lens is different.”
Kimble, 52, said that just as important as an organization’s internal culture is how that culture is viewed by the outside community.
“It’s always good to have an outside look, someone that has a different perspective,” Kimble said. “Find out where I as a sheriff can mend some of those issues between the public and the deputies.”
Moorman, 43, said the department needed to “embrace the community.”
“Getting out in the community, community engagement, and also looking at what we’ve done right, what we’ve done where we can improve and make sure that we have the adequate training on de-escalation,” he said.
For nearly a decade, elected officials in King County have been pushing for sheriff’s deputies to wear body cameras to increase transparency, especially in police shootings. Both the county’s elected sheriffs over that time have said they agreed.
But deputies still do not wear body cameras and cruisers still do not have dashboard cameras, even as the Seattle Police Department and smaller municipal departments have implemented body camera programs.
A pilot program last year put body cameras on 10 deputies for three months, but the results of the trial have not been released.
All three candidates said sheriff’s deputies should be wearing body cameras, but there remains no firm timeline. The issue must be collectively bargained with the union representing sergeants and deputies. Cole-Tindall said they are looking at putting body cameras in the 2023-24 budget.
Cole-Tindall, when her interim appointment was announced in November, said she would not be a candidate for the permanent job, because it “would distract from the work” she needed to do as interim leader.
On Tuesday, she said she changed her mind after beginning the job and speaking with employees of the department.
“I received many, many requests, wouldn’t I reconsider,” Cole-Tindall said. “That our staff were starting to feel hopeful, and the sheriff’s office was turning around to be an agency that they wanted to be part of.”
In February, she said, she decided to put her name in and, with Constantine’s blessing, applied just before the deadline.
Cole-Tindall began her career as a law enforcement officer in 1991 with the Washington State Gambling Commission. But she then worked in various other positions in state and county government (investigating unemployment fraud, community corrections, labor relations), before joining the sheriff’s department in 2015. She is a commissioned, but not certified, law enforcement officer. If she is chosen as the permanent sheriff, she said, she would have to re-complete the state’s 19-week basic law enforcement academy.
Kimble has been police chief of Killeen since 2017. He began his career as a police officer in his hometown of Milwaukee. When his wife, who was in the Army, was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he got a job as an officer in nearby Fayetteville, where he moved up the ranks of the city’s police department. He was police chief for Fayetteville State University and Spring Lake, North Carolina, before moving to Killeen.
He shrugged off the difference in size between Killeen, population 145,000, and King County, population, 2.2 million, noting Killeen is the hub of a metro area of nearly 500,000.
“Leadership is the same no matter what size the department is; management strategies are still the same,” he said. “Your core values of honesty, integrity and fairness and hard working, those things are still the same.”
Moorman stressed his experience overseeing busy, high-profile locations, such as Atlanta’s airport and pro football stadium, where he was the senior officer.
As police departments across the country struggle to recruit new officers to fill their ranks, he said he would focus on retaining officers first. He said while police departments often do a good job training new recruits and upper command, training for midlevel management can be neglected.
“You have to treat your people well and focus on the supervision that they receive,” Moorman said. “People, they don’t leave the jobs, they leave the supervisors. And so when you have those supervisors, you want to make sure that they have the skills that they need to retain talent.”
King County voters in 2020 voted to make sheriff an appointed, rather than elected, position for the first time in more than a quarter century.
Part of the rationale for switching sheriff to an appointed position was that it would allow the county to conduct a much broader search. When it was an elected position, candidates were limited to those living in the area and, in practice, to those already working in the Sheriff’s Office.
There will also be at least two public forums with the three finalists, held virtually. The first will be at 6 p.m. Monday, and the second at 9 a.m. April 21.