SeaTac Police Chief Jim Graddon is Continuing a Family Tradition of Service
by Jack Mayne
Jim Graddon may be a high ranking major in the King County Sheriff’s office, but he makes it clear that his primary job is as chief of the SeaTac Police Department.
For the past five years, Graddon has balanced the job as commander of the Southwest Precinct with that of running the SeaTac department. New Sheriff Steven Strachan is reorganizing the department to better police unincorporated county as well as the16 cities and other jurisdictions, such as the Muckleshoot Tribal land and SeaTac Airport.
“As I step away from the unincorporated side of my house – having two roles, as chief and as precinct commander – I will be moving more to the steady job of being the chief of police,” Graddon says.
SeaTac City Manager Todd Cutts appreciates him.
“The City of SeaTac feels fortunate to have Jim Graddon as our police chief,” Cutts says. “His level of professionalism and his deep roots within the Highline community make him the perfect person for the job.”
He says becoming the SeaTac police chief was a natural progression of his career.
“I have done a host of assignments in my time, including administrative assignments in internal affairs, working as an adjutant to one of the (Sheriff’s department) division chiefs downtown for a couple of years, so I was exposed to the administrative aspect of our policing.
“You come to the realization that there is an absolute need for people to be involved in the business and managerial aspect of policing. I have great officers here who go out into the field and do the field level police work.”
There are about 40 full-time equivalent positions in SeaTac, but the fact it is a Sheriff’s based department means 17 more people in shared services such as communications, major crimes investigation and human resources. That is a stronger base for a department than most stand-alone city departments could afford.
“I sit here as the chief of police of the City of SeaTac, a fully vested department head here, with a budget in the city and I respond to my council and my city manager and yet I have a foot over in the county world because of that overarching world (of King County). We can draw on those services also.
“We think it is a pretty strong model, (contracting with King County) has worked well now for what is 20 years for SeaTac.”
A service family
He was born and raised in the Seahurst area, now a part of Burien. He went to Catholic grade school there, then graduated from Kennedy High School in 1973.
“I come from a family history of service, including police service,” Graddon says.
His father, Lawrence James Graddon, spent 20 years with the King County Sheriff Department and retired as a lieutenant.
“My mom was a nurse and one of the first nurses in what was then Burien General Hospital, ultimately retiring after many, many years as the assistant nursing director.”
Becoming a deputy sheriff “was the right direction for me to go,” he says.
But, first there was a stop at the Seattle Police Department.
Graddon said he was hired about three months after his high school graduation by the Seattle Police as a uniformed, paid police cadet. The program was soon cut in a budget crunch, but he and other cadets were moved into the department’s communications center. For the next four years he was a Seattle Police dispatcher.
“It was a great opportunity and taught me a whole host of things, geography, the police radio aspect of this work – which is really hard for a new police officer coming on.”
Meanwhile, he was looking at other area department for line police work.
When an opportunity to join the sheriff’s office opened, Graddon says he “jumped at the opportunity because … my father served there for a couple of decades.”
He went through police academy training in 1978, then was sent for field training in the Southwest precinct where he had lived growing up and where his father had served much of his time in the department.
“Somehow in my career, I keep having a Southwest Precinct influence in my life,” he says. He has been in the Sheriff’s Department for 34 years.
“This has been a great career,” he says. “I have had an unbelievable opportunities afforded me over the years.”
He said “the greatest satisfaction” in his career was when serving as a field training officer “influencing, hopefully positively, the careers of those coming on.”
After some assignments as a detective and in administration, then-Sgt. Graddon was tabbed to be adjutant to the new chief of the new SeaTac Police.
“Just a few months after the formation of the city, I served here from 1991 to 1994 in that adjutant chief/assistant chief’s role,” he says.
“I had some really great chiefs here,” Graddon says. “Craig Wilkie was my first boss, Bill Dickinson (currently police chief in Sequim), was my second boss in SeaTac,” he says. “I have learned a huge amount from both of them – both of them contributed to the management style that I have today.”
Green River murder taskforce
He moved from SeaTac to co-supervisor of the Sheriff’s Major Crimes unit, which handles robberies, major assaults, kidnappings and other major crimes.
Graddon was the last team leader of the Green River murders taskforce. It was during the 2001 “arrest phase.”
“Once we got Gary Ridgway into custody – we did that all as a very clandestine operation – we grew our task force to include prosecutors,” he says.
“For about a year, through the course of the secret plea agreements, having Gary live with us for six months in our ‘bunker’ down at Boeing Field – ‘bunker’ was the nickname we had for our office – literally living with Ridgway 24/7 for 188 days.
“Irrespective of what I would think of him on an emotional level … we had a job to do. We needed to be there for the victim’s families,” Graddon says.
“We don’t have enough time now to describe what it is to listen to Gary Ridgway talk about the murder of – pick a number – he is charged with and plead guilty to 49 and he claims a host more than that.
“To listen to him over the period of hundreds of hours of interviews, watching my team work with him, watching the search teams go out and do what they (had to do) and, on occasion, going out with them, we simply had to be focused on the job we were doing. We didn’t have time to think about it on an emotional level, yet there is a huge psychological and emotional level to it all.”
Graddon says he feels the taskforce, the prosecutors and others did a superlative job.
“They were remarkable times,” he says now.
“We have a dozen contracts,” he says of the county policing contracts. “We were the policing authority for most of the places while they were unincorporated.”
Graddon says that the county did it all wrong in the first contract providing policing to Federal Way. That city dropped the contract and formed its own department in the early 1990s.
“Because we’ve learned the business, we’ve learned how to be partners, we’ve learned about local identity, local control,” he says,
Graddon, 57, became chief in 2007 after former Chief Greg Dymerski was promoted by then Sheriff Sue Rahr to be commander of the criminal investigation division. Dymerski died last April after a long battle with cancer.
When the job opened up, senior command deputies were asked if they were interested and Graddon said he was “very interested.”
A full interview process was set up – Graddon says the city manager, city council members and department heads interviewed him before he was selected.
The chief says the administrative part of his job does not detract from his “love for this job.” He says he still gets to go out into the field and he gets to monitor the police radio, back up his people in the field and “be a police officer” sometimes.
“But I know my role and that is as this department’s head, this department’s chief and leader,” he says. “I need to be representing (officers and civilian staff) to the city; I need to be representing them within the county structure of our contract. That is my job. It is to facilitate what they do out here.
“I can tell you, I truly enjoy it.”