King County Executive Dow Constantine has chosen Patti Cole-Tindall to be the county’s next full-time sheriff, landing on his interim choice from last fall and the department’s former second in command after a nationwide search.
Constantine chose Cole-Tindall over two other finalists, from police departments in Atlanta and Texas, stressing the positive reviews she’s received from rank-and-file officers during her time as interim sheriff and her nontraditional career, spent largely outside of law enforcement.
Cole-Tindall, if confirmed by the Metropolitan King County Council, will be the first appointed sheriff in more than 25 years. King County voters, in 2020, opted to make sheriff an appointed rather than elected position.
A big part of the rationale for making the switch was that it would allow the county to cast a broader net; when the sheriff was elected it essentially limited candidates to those already within the department.
Nonetheless, Constantine chose a candidate from within the department.
“We got a lot of good applicants and they were from outside our department, but they were police officers from other departments, and they were career police officers,” Constantine said. Cole-Tindall, while she’s been with the sheriff’s department for more than six years, worked for years in other areas of government, outside of law enforcement.
“And so she brings a broader and I think different perspective and in many ways,” Constantine said. “She’s maybe the least traditional candidate that we had to consider.”
After several rounds of interviews, meetings with the public, employees and local leaders, Cole-Tindall won out over the other finalists: Charles Kimble, chief of police in Killeen, Texas, and Reginald Moorman, a major in the Atlanta Police Department.
Cole-Tindall, 57, lives in Kent and served as undersheriff, the department’s No. 2, for a year and a half before she became interim sheriff Jan. 1. She previously served as the department’s chief of technical services for almost five years.
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 graduated from Central Washington University and has a master’s in public administration from Troy State University, according to her LinkedIn page.
When Constantine tabbed her as interim sheriff in November, she pledged not to seek the full-time job, saying it would be a distraction from the work she needed to do.
But she says she changed her mind after receiving “many, many requests” from department employees who thought “the sheriff’s office was turning around to be an agency that they wanted to be part of.”
She said she called Constantine just before the application deadline and said she wanted to seek the permanent position.
Constantine told her it would not be an easy competition, but she had the right to apply.
Constantine and Cole-Tindall pledged that sheriff’s deputies and cruisers will eventually be equipped with body and dashboard cameras, but neither had a firm timeline, stressing that implementation was expensive and must be collectively bargained. Cole-Tindall’s two predecessors as sheriff both pushed, unsuccessfully, for body cameras on deputies.
Constantine said he was working to put money for body cameras into the two-year budget proposal he will submit this year.
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, the chair of the Law and Justice committee and a police reform advocate, said Cole-Tindall would be in a good position to usher in an era of public safety more focused on public health and community.
“In the few months since she’s stepped into the role of interim sheriff,” Zahilay said, “we’ve seen a big difference in responsiveness, communication, collaboration with her department and so I’m hopeful that she will be the best person for the job.”
Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer said he favored Cole-Tindall and thought she “would be acceptable to a broad spectrum of my colleagues.”
“She already knows the environment, she has worked there, she has worked with all three branches of government,” von Reichbauer said.
Cole-Tindall said her most important work since taking office has been establishing a better relationship and improving communication with the staff and officers of the sheriff’s department.
Like many police departments, the sheriff’s department has struggled with retention — it has 119 vacancies for commissioned officers and is offering both retention and hiring bonuses.
“I don’t think that’s what gets people to come here,” Cole-Tindall said, “it’s morale and feeling good about the work you’re doing.”
She said she’s implemented listening sessions, monthly videos to staff and has worked to establish better relationships with the community.
“It’s just a matter of engaging, being seen, not sitting in the office, being out,” she said at a public forum last month for the three finalists. “Sitting in the office is not value add, the value is meeting with the troops hearing what they want, hearing what they need and then how can I as a leader respond to that.”
In that public forum, Cole-Tindall billed herself as “a known collaborator, I am a known problem-solver, I am a strong leader.”
Mike Mansanarez, president of the King County Police Officers Guild, the union representing sergeants and deputies, praised Cole-Tindall for “trying to steer the department off the rocks,” where he said it had been when she took over Jan. 1.
Any accusations that Cole-Tindall was “part of the old guard,” due to her coming from within the sheriff’s department, were “the farthest from the truth,” he said.
“She’s listening, where the last sheriff did not,” Mansanarez said. “She’s not a cop, but she’s surrounded herself with cops to help her make decisions, she’s a great all around manager.”
Because so much time passed between her stints in law enforcement, nearly two decades, Cole-Tindall is no longer a certified law enforcement officer. She will have to enroll in, and recomplete Washington’s 19-week basic law enforcement academy. She’ll have to start by January 2023 and said she would appoint somebody to serve as acting sheriff while she’s in the academy.
“I don’t believe that I need to have served for 30 years inside law enforcement in order to be an effective leader,” she said at the public forum. “King County does things differently and this is an opportunity for King County to do things differently again.”