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King Council Councilmembers Introduce Legislation for Advance County Law Enforcement Reforms

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King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, joined by King County Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Girmay Zahilay, and Joe McDermott, introduced legislation that would make the King County Sheriff an appointed position and grant subpoena power to the county’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO). These two key reforms came as recommendations from the 2018-2019 King County Charter Review Commission’s final report aimed at increasing accountability and oversight in King County’s law enforcement and criminal justice system.

“These are important reforms that can help improve our justice system. They have been thoroughly vetted and developed with public input over many months,” Dembowski said. “OLEO must have the power it needs to conduct its mission. A decade of opposition to its authority needs to end, and end now.”

The King County Council determines which Charter Review Commission recommendations to bring forward to the voters for their consideration. The introduction of the proposed ordinances brings the two recommendations forward to the County Council for consideration to place on the November General Election ballot.

The Charter Review Commission pointed to two major changes on why King County should return to an appointed Sheriff. Since moving to an elected model in 1996, the County has grown more diverse than ever, and with the shrinking of the unincorporated area, fewer voters are directly served by the Sheriff. In addition, the Commission cited:

  • Elections politicize an important law enforcement function
  • Appointment would provide increased accountability to residents and proportional representation
  • Appointment provides flexibility when change is needed especially during the interim between election years
  • Appointment avoids the internal strife that contested elections can cause
  • An appointed Sheriff is more accountable for performance and for complying with county ordinances and policies

An Equity Committee whose members included Elizabeth Ford, Nikkita Oliver, Alejandra Tres, Rob Saka, and Marcos Martinez made up part of the Charter Review Commission.

“Especially in light of the recent officer-involved killings and the movement of people for Black Lives across our region and the nation, we feel that any action to consider systemic changes in concerns to police accountability and transparency are critical to have before the council and ultimately before the voters,” those members of the Equity Committee said in a statement.

The Charter Review Commission report also concluded that “A decade is long enough to wait for effective civilian oversight.”

“The Office of Law Enforcement Oversight was established by the King County Council in 2006 and the people of King County voted to add the office to the county charter in 2015. It’s my hope voters will have the opportunity to build on that decision by increasing the accountability and oversight responsibilities of this office,” Councilmember Kohl-Welles said. “I am grateful to the dedicated members of the Charter Review Commission for their thorough decision-making and community-led process, resulting in this recommendation as well as others for amending King County’s Charter.”

“Because of the important work of the Charter Review Commission over the past year and a half, we are in a position to have the tangible, substantive and critical conversation right now about law enforcement accountability that communities across the county are demanding,” Councilmember McDermott said. “I believe these are fundamental changes in how the county can approach law enforcement and move the dial towards accountability and justice. I am proud to join my colleagues in bringing these proposals forward so voters have the opportunity to chart a new course here in King County.”

The County’s Office of Law Enforcement and Oversight was created in 2006 as an independent office within the legislative branch. Since its inception, OLEO’s powers have been hindered as the terms of civilian oversight are subject to collective bargaining, this has included the ability of OLEO to issue subpoenas. Subpoena power is the ability to require a party to turn over information. Without it, while OLEO can request information, it has no ability to require it. The Commission found that amending the Charter to include subpoena power would be a demonstration of the will of the people that the oversight office be empowered to gather the information it needs to be effective.

“OLEO appreciates the careful consideration that the Charter Review Commission gave to improving police accountability in King County. It recommended several important changes to strengthen oversight of the Sheriff’s Office, including adding subpoena power to OLEO’s authorities,” said OLEO Director Deborah Jacobs. “We look forward to a timely and thoughtful dialogue with Council about the best approaches to accountability for King County policing.”

The County’s Charter is a guiding document that outlines how the County operates and delegates its powers. The Charter is updated every decade by a Charter Review Commission. The 20-member body met over 20 times, including 7 community meetings throughout King County between July 24, 2018 and January 23, 2020, and released its recommendations report in late 2019.

“Now more than ever are the proposals brought forward by the King County Charter Review Commission timely and necessary for oversight and reform of law enforcement,” said Kinnon Williams, King County Charter Review Commissioner.

The above is a press release from the King County Council .  The Auburn Examiner has not independently verified its contents and encourages our readers to personally verify any information they find may be overly biased or questionable. The publication of this press release does not indicate an endorsement of its contents. 

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