Sheriff: Increased ‘Contract’ Partnerships Expected to Increase Public Safety

Sheriff Sue Rahr at a 2010 press conference. Photo by Nicholas Johnson.

by Ralph Nichols

King County Sheriff Sue Rahr told The B-Town Blog this week she thinks “public safety will improve as we form more partnerships” with cities that contract for law enforcement services.

Burien and SeaTac are two of 12 King County cities that contract with the sheriff’s office. As Des Moines looks for a new police chief, some suggest that city, too, should contract for police services.

The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Sound Transit, Metro Transit, and the King County International Airport also contract with the sheriff’s office..

Rahr, who has served as sheriff since 2005, will leave that post effective March 31 to become director of the Washington State Law Enforcement Training Commission. The training academy is in Burien.

She was elected sheriff following her appointment earlier that year after then-Sheriff Dave Reichert was elected to Congress, then recommended her for that job.

A major advantage for cities contracting for law enforcement services is that “partnerships provide better communication and better coordination” among police departments, Rahr said in a telephone interview.

They also underscore the economic realities that local governments increasingly deal with. “We’re always trying to build our business,” Rahr said of the sheriff’s office. “New police contracts is one way.

“Selling parts of our services is another, for example our marine patrol or communications center. Like any business we want to diversify.”

What this means financially for Burien and SeaTac is that as the number of cities contracting with the sheriff’s office increases, “this will bring their costs down.

“It’s the Costco model,” she noted. “The larger our customer base, the lower the costs are for everyone.”

These economies of scale are necessary for law enforcement because “I don’t think this is a temporary financial problem. This is an economic reset at a lower level for government services.

“It will be a permanent reset and the sheriff’s office is adjusting down to a lower level of financial resources. We are already changing our structure, our facilities configuration, and everything we do.

“We have to change the way we deliver service so we can maintain the quality of that service,” Rahr continued.

But, she emphasized, “I don’t believe in the famous saying ‘do more with less.’ We have to do it differently. The economy will drive the partnerships and the partnerships are good for public safety.”

Asked specifically about crime in the Highline area, Rahr indicated these communities are not unlike the rest of King County.

“I think that we are seeing increased property crimes there, but that’s a regional trend. It’s not just Highline,” she said.

“There are a lot of social factors that contribute to crime. The challenge is for law enforcement and social services to work together to get at the underlying causes of crime.”

Rahr leaves the King County Sheriff’s Office with mixed emotions.

“There is a sense of identity and camaraderie that you have as a cop. I’m going to miss that. It’s a very powerful identity to have and a very powerful support group.”

But the timing is right.

She has been in the sheriff’s office for 32 years, “and I have identified a person” – Chief Deputy Steve Strachan – “that I’m 100 percent confident will keep the sheriff’s office on track and take it to a new level.”

Strachan now must be confirmed as interim sheriff by the King County Council, or they will name someone else.

“The opportunity at the police academy is a very rare opportunity,” Rahr added. “I’m very passionate about police training and having the opportunity to do something about police training is very exciting to me.”

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