Steve Strachan was appointed King County sheriff on Monday, replacing Sue Rahr, who quit to become executive director of the state's police-training academy.

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The Metropolitan King County Council granted outgoing Sheriff Sue Rahr her wish, appointing her hand-picked successor, Steve Strachan, the new county sheriff Monday afternoon.

Rahr, whose last day as sheriff was Saturday, quit to become executive director of the state’s police-training academy. She has groomed Strachan to take her place since hiring him as chief deputy in January 2011.

Strachan, 47, was Kent’s police chief for more than four years. He also was a police chief, city-council member and Republican state legislator in his native Minnesota.

In a unanimous vote, the County Council picked Strachan to fill Rahr’s job until an election in November determines who will serve as sheriff until Rahr’s term is done at the end of 2013.

“Everybody came to the conclusion the wisest course would be to give him the opportunity to show his stuff,” said council Chairman Larry Gossett.

Council members floated some other names for consideration, including former Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, Gossett said.

In some similar appointments, the council has selected a “caretaker” — someone who wouldn’t run for office — in order to keep an appointee from gaining an incumbent’s advantage in an election. But going outside the Sheriff’s Office would be a “little too disruptive to the department,” Gossett said.

Strachan said he would definitely seek election this year to fill the remainder of Rahr’s term. John Urquhart, the department’s former spokesman, is considering running. Filing deadline is in May.

“It certainly was expected,” Urquhart said of Strachan’s appointment. “He’s obviously going to have the advantage of being an incumbent. And that’s fine.”

At least one county law-enforcement group, the union that represents 20 captains in the Sheriff’s Office, urged council members to pick Strachan.

The Puget Sound Police Managers Association wrote council members to say the department has been working on a strategic plan. Bringing in an outsider as sheriff would be “unduly disruptive” and could delay the plan, union President Michael Pendrak said.

Strachan said he was humbled by the council’s vote. It’s important for the 1,000-employee department to have “stability of leadership at a critical time,” he said.

Council members and Strachan mentioned challenges ahead: reducing overtime, negotiating a new contract with deputies, making the county’s new Office of Law Enforcement Oversight effective.

Gossett asked Strachan what he would do to improve relations between deputies and minorities, who Gossett said often view law-enforcement officers as hostile “occupiers.”

“It’s a profound question,” Strachan said, “and there is no easy answer.”

Calling it the “biggest challenge” in law enforcement, Strachan said it would take a big commitment over a long time. Humility is key, he said. If officers don’t carry out their duties with humility, they risk losing respect on the streets.

While Strachan’s response lacked specifics, Gossett said the new sheriff appears “willing to deal with these issues.”

Noting Strachan’s competence and Rahr’s endorsement, Councilmember Julia Patterson of SeaTac said the new sheriff “has the qualities to maintain the professionalism Sue Rahr has brought to our department.”

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or