King County will get a new sheriff just over one month from now, as the sheriff’s department moves under the authority of the county executive for the first time in years and seeks to boost pay to fill around 60 open positions.
Patti Cole-Tindall, currently second in command at the sheriff’s department, will be appointed interim sheriff and will start Jan. 1, County Executive Dow Constantine announced Tuesday.
King County voters authorized the switch atop the county’s law enforcement department when they voted last year to make sheriff an appointed, rather than elected, position. That change goes into effect in 2022, when the term of current Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, who was elected in 2017, ends. Constantine, who has clashed with Johanknecht, has chosen an immediate change.
Cole-Tindall, 57, lives in Kent and has been with the sheriff’s department for about six years after a long career in public service. She has served as undersheriff, the department’s No. 2, for the last year and a half, after serving as the department’s chief of technical services for almost five years.
“Patti has both the experience and the temperament to be able to lead her employees forward in a productive way,” Constantine said. “She knows the department, she knows the people, and I think she can build trust with the officers and other personnel to improve the environment there and make change more possible, and to build the trust with the communities that have had a conflict with the department.”
She will be the first person of color to serve as sheriff in Washington’s largest county.
She said she wants to improve communication, both within the department and to the broader community, but also sees her role as providing a smooth transition to a new permanent sheriff from outside the department.
“Communicating for me is going to be number one, communicating frequently and often,” Cole-Tindall said. “I believe in full transparency. Nothing we do should be secret or cannot be shared.”
Cole-Tindall will likely serve as sheriff for about six months. The county has launched a nationwide search for a new sheriff, and Cole-Tindall said she will not apply for the permanent job.
“If I was part of the application process, I feel it would distract from the work that I think needs to be done,” Cole-Tindall said.
Constantine said he hopes to have made a selection sometime around the end of March. He expects it would then take the Metropolitan King County Council, which must approve any permanent sheriff, some time to consider and vet the choice, and they would hopefully be in office by summer.
At the same time, Constantine is proposing generous new retention bonuses for sheriff’s deputies and hiring bonuses for new deputies. The bonuses, which must be approved by the County Council, would be: $4,000 for all commissioned sheriff’s office employees, $15,000 for new sheriff’s deputies with equivalent experience, $7,500 for new deputies without experience and $5,000 for current employees who refer successful new hires.
Constantine said the bonuses are necessary to fill about 60 open positions. The department has about 800 commissioned law enforcement positions. The bonuses would come from within the sheriff department’s existing budget, with salary savings freed up by the vacancies, Constantine’s office said.
As part of his biennial budget, Constantine cut several million dollars from the sheriff’s department a year ago, a move spurred in part by the racial injustice protests of 2020 and in part by pandemic-induced revenue shortfalls — and one that Johanknecht objected to at the time.
Constantine said there was some tension between last year’s cuts — which shifted money to things like helping people vacate old marijuana convictions — and the new proposed bonuses, but the county has various duties that sometimes conflict.
“I do think there’s an inherent tension there because you want to devote resources to upstream interventions, to doing justice broadly,” he said. “We also have a very basic duty here, which is to have a police officer able to respond when you have an emergency and you pick up the phone and call.”
Cole-Tindall began her career in law enforcement in 1991 as a special agent with the Washington State Gambling Commission, a position for which she carried a gun and completed the state’s basic law enforcement academy. She moved to the state Employment Security Department, where she worked on investigations into fraud and theft of unemployment benefits.
She moved to King County government in 1998, working as an investigator in the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. She was later an assistant director in the department’s Community Corrections Division.
Constantine tabbed her in 2010 as the county’s director of Labor Relations, responsible for representing the county in collective bargaining. She was interim director of the county’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight in 2014. She returned to law enforcement, joining the Sheriff’s Department in 2015.
She graduated from Central Washington University and has a master’s in public administration from Troy State University, according to her LinkedIn page. The page also lists Blue Lives Matter, a West Virginia-based media company, as among her interests.
Constantine and Johanknecht clashed over not only budget issues but also the sheriff’s response to high-profile police shootings.
Johanknecht suspended for just one day a captain who referred to a group of Black teens in Brooklyn who assaulted and stole from a girl as “animals.” The same officer had also been involved in a botched sting operation that led to sheriff’s detectives fatally shooting 17-year-old Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens. And after the county agreed to a $5 million settlement with the family of Tommy Le, who was also fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy, Johanknecht sent an internal department email saying the settlement was “not a reflection of how I view the actions” of the deputy who shot Le.
That led Constantine to write to Johanknecht urging her to consider retiring immediately. Constantine said he has not spoken to Johanknecht recently.
Cole-Tindall said there were times when she disagreed with Johanknecht’s actions, but she respected her perspective and her decisions.
“I don’t want to, I guess, go down that road to, say, second-guessing the decisions that the sheriff has made,” she said.
She said she interpreted Johanknecht’s email in the wake of the Le settlement as “trying to show support of our deputies who make hard decisions every day.”