The King County Auditor’s Office on Tuesday, June 14, 2022 released an audit that found racial disparities in King County Sheriff’s Office interactions on calls for service.

The Sheriff’s Office provides its police services to the City of Burien under a contract that includes 15 other jurisdictions.

In particular, the audit says that deputies were more likely to have used force against Black and Hispanic people, and White deputies used force more often than Black or Asian deputies.

The report was presented before the King County Council’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

“The available data raised red flags indicating there is racial equity work to be done, and since auditors found that the Sheriff’s Office does not collect race data for most interactions, report recommendations focus on improving data collection so that causes of these disparities can be identified and addressed,” King County’s Office of Council Communications said.

“Data show concerning racial disparities in uses of force and arrests in King County, similar to disparities other jurisdictions are finding,” said King County Auditor Kymber Waltmunson. “It is encouraging that the Sheriff’s Office concurred with our recommendations and plans to explore further to identify and address the causes of disparities.”

Here’s more from the county:

In their analysis of calls for service, auditors found that:

    • The types and outcomes of calls vary widely across the county’s unincorporated areas and contract partners. This is to be expected, given the diverse population, geography, and policing priorities across various regions of the county.
    • The Sheriff’s Office has little information on the race of people it interacts with.  Not knowing the race of people that officers interact with on calls for service makes it incredibly difficult to assess the extent to which policing disproportionately impacts some communities more than others.
    • There are barriers to collecting better data on race that need to be addressed. An update to King County Code was implemented in 2018 to ensure that King County’s data would not be used to assist with the Federal Government’s deportation agenda, but this may unintentionally also prevent the Sheriff’s Officer from collecting the data needed to assess potential racial disparities in policing outcomes. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office has noted limitations with their Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system that would need to be resolved to capture data on race in that system.
    • Racial disparities observed in available data. Data from case files and use of force records indicate that some racial groups experienced greater numbers of uses of force than others and were arrested more often than expected given their makeup of the county population. Some racial groups of officers also used force more often than others. Auditors did not assess the appropriateness of any specific arrest or use of force.
      • As a group, White officers appear to have used force twice as often as Black or Asian officers.
      • Officers used force against Black people and people of Hispanic origin more often than other races; against White people less often.
      • White officers used force against Black people more often than other officers; against Asian and people of Hispanic origin less often.
      • The Sheriff’s Office arrested Black people over 350% more than would be expected given their proportion of the population; this disparity was not localized to any one KCSO jurisdiction, it was spread throughout the majority of the county.
      • American Indian / Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and people of Hispanic origin were also arrested at rates higher than their proportions of the population, but not nearly as high as the rate for Black people. Asian people and White people were arrested at lower rates.
    • More data and analysis are needed to explore the scope and causes of these disparities. Analyses were limited by the small proportion of data available and couldn’t address whether or not disparities carry over into any other interactions between the Sheriff’s Office and the community. Significantly better data quality and completeness alongside additional analysis is needed to explore these further, discern cause, and address disparities.
    • The County is exploring a pilot program for alternatives to policing; other jurisdictions across the county have implemented similar programs that can offer lessons learned. Many other models are centered in responding to people in mental and behavioral health crisis, but practitioners say that these programs carry over to other types of calls typically responded to by police. Auditors hired a consultant to review leading practices in alternative policing around the country to inform potential opportunities here in King County. If King County diverted the same type of calls being diverted in other jurisdictions, it would change how the Sheriff’s Office responds to around 15 percent of its calls. Auditors assessed the risk to officers for each initial call type (what an event originally is coded at its inception) based on call outcome using the Sheriff’s Office data. Over 80% of the calls diverted in other areas were considered low to moderate risk to King County responders based on this analysis.

Read the full findings of the audit here.