by Jack Mayne
Changes in the way the King County Sheriff’s office deploys its men and women around the county will have no effect on the way the SeaTac Police operate, even though all city officers are county sheriff’s deputies, says SeaTac Police Chief Jim Graddon.
“Whatever changes might happen on the county side, we are not, in any way, being significantly impacted.”
The city has a contract with the county to provide police, Graddon says, and the city will continue to get everything it is paying for.
“That is a huge piece of my job, my responsibility to my city that I make sure that (SeaTac doesn’t) end up somehow subsidizing the Sheriff’s office because of major budget cuts in King County.”
SeaTac City Council members will hear about policing contracts from newly installed Sheriff Steve D. Strachan at the next City Council study session, to be held at 4 p.m., Tuesday, April 24 in Council Chambers.
County has budget woes
Strachan, who was recently appointed to fill out the term of now retired Sheriff Sue Rahr, inherits an agency that lost 143 positions since 2007 to budget cuts and annexations such as that by Burien of portions of the North Highline Unincorporated Area a couple of years ago.
Most jobs were cut through attrition.
Policing Contracts Tuesday
SeaTac City Council members will hear about policing contracts from newly installed Sheriff Steve D. Strachan at the next City Council study session (4 p.m., Tuesday, April 24 in Council Chambers)
The Sheriff’s Office polices an unincorporated population of about 305,000, spread out over 2,100 square miles.
There are 639 sworn officer positions but only 200 work in unincorporated areas, putting the level of police staffing for county residents at one of the lowest levels in the state.
The Sheriff’s Office also runs municipal police departments under contracts with SeaTac and Burien and the remaining 439 officers work in several incorporated cities that have contracted with the Sheriff’s Office for police services. It has contracts with 10 other cities, the King County International Airport, Metro Transit, Sound Transit and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. Contracts are unique to each community.
SeaTac and the department Graddon runs cannot change, he says, unless the city and Sheriff agree to contract changes. There have been no such discussions.
Graddon became the chief of the SeaTac Police Department In February 2007 and was simultaneously appointed a major in the King County Sheriff’s Department and commander of the Southwest Precinct which included Burien, SeaTac, North Highline, Vashon Island and the West Hill, or Skyline, areas. Graddon is paid by the Sheriff’s office but SeaTac pays 75 percent of the cost and King County pays 25 percent of his salary.
The chief says he absolutely believes in the sheriff’s department taking over police services of cities – “you see that all across the country.”
The philosophy of the Sheriff’s department is not to come into an area and just do the work its way, Graddon says, but it is to actually become the locally controlled police agency under a contract to a city, and thus giving the city real control over its police force.
That wasn’t always true. The first and possibly the largest contract by King County was Federal Way during the 1990s. Then the department basically told the city to keep its nose out of policing and for city officials to content themselves with running its other operations. Federal way leaders objected and in 1996 terminated the contract and created its own police department.
“We were not wise then about the ways we did business,” Graddon says.
“When we lost the Federal Way contract … we didn’t understand how critical local identity and local control are to these people we serve when they become incorporated. They become incorporated areas for a reason and it wasn’t good enough to simply say ‘we have been your police department forever so why don’t we just keep doing it?’”
That was a “really bad idea” because the biggest chunk of any city’s budget is for police services.
“We learned a huge lesson in our business of policing when we lost Federal Way,” Graddon says.
“Now all of the officers in a contracted department wear uniforms that look more like a municipal police department,” Graddon says.
“I am a department head, I sat with my city manager for an hour (recently), as I do faithfully just like any other department head does every other week, reporting on my business with the city, I answer operations, for budgets (although) there are some nuances because of contractual obligations.
“We are every bit the local police and I take huge pride in that,” he says. “I proudly wear my SeaTac uniform to SeaTac events and within SeaTac City Hall because I love being the SeaTac police chief. These are partnerships, these are relationships.”
Being both deputies and SeaTac officers has advantages, he says.
“The beauty of this is that when it comes time for (deputies working as SeaTac officers) to take an opportunity to go into a major crimes position, which wouldn’t exist in so many other departments, they wouldn’t have specialty units of the nature of the Sheriff’s office. They can advance without changing agencies.”
The city can use the special units of the Sheriff’s office because that flexibility is built into the city contracts. Special units include sex crimes, homicides and gang enforcement and others.
“I have people who have gone on to SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), I have people who have gone on to major crimes, on to motorcycles in the county structure. Some may even want to move to another contract city.”
For a period of time, Graddon will keep his command of two large unincorporated areas in Southwest King County, the remaining unincorporated part North Highline and the West Hill/Skyway area. North Highline residents are expected to vote in November on whether to annex to Burien. Renton is talking with the county about the possibility annexing Skyway. Those connections will diminish over time, either because they are annexed or are placed under the new unincorporated areas precinct command.
The chief says that with the changes some of his county responsibilities will shrink and so he will have more time to devote to the City of SeaTac and its force of close to 40 people.
“I personally believe that is a positive,” he says.