Audit of King County Sheriff's Office stirs up concerns
By KEVIN ENDEJAN
Issaquah Reporter Assistant editor
July 30, 2012 · Updated 9:00 AM
An audit released Tuesday returned scathing results of the way the King County Sheriff's Office manages its internal and public complaints.
Among its findings, the audit report made 16 recommendations for the KCSO Internal Investigations Unit and newly established Office of Law Enforcement Oversight.
"The audit reveals alarming shortcomings in the Sheriff’s Office internal investigation processes and accountability systems that are unacceptable," King County Councilman Bob Ferguson said. "The public expects and deserves better."
Sheriff Steve Strachan, who is up for election this year after replacing out-going Sheriff Sue Rahr on an interim basis in March, responded by saying he "welcomed the feedback and has learned from this audit."
Strachan agreed with the recommendations and noted many of the issues have already been identified and changes were in process.
"I will continue to work with the Police Officers Guild and our other labor groups to create a partnership that’s fair to them and fair to the public," he said.
King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson also expressed her disappointment with the audit results, but remained optimistic about turning things around soon.
"By creating the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, working to maintain funding for law enforcement oversight, and calling for today’s audit, the Council has continuously made this issue a priority," Patterson said. "I look forward to working with Sheriff Strachan and OLEO to ensure that the inadequacies that were exposed in today’s report are resolved as quickly as possible."
The City of Sammamish contracts the KCSO for police services.
The audit, which was conducted by Hillard Heintz of Chicago, was completed earlier in the year.
Some of the findings of the audit included:
• Senior leadership within the Sheriff’s Office openly downplays the importance of thediscipline process.
• KCSO leadership has not promoted deputy and management accountability, and theexpectation of rigorous compliance with the department’s accountability system islacking.
• Performance incidents reported and documented are unaddressed or downplayed at thecommand level.
• The Internal Investigations Unit is not empowered to fulfill its role as thecoordinator of all internal affairs complaints.
• The culture of the Sheriff's Office downplays the importance of officer accountability and complaint response.
• Internal Investigations is understaffed for a department this size (two investigators).
• Interim Sheriff Strachan does not meet with the Internal Investigations commanderregularly, contrary to best practices.
• The department’s accreditation by Commission on Accreditation for LawEnforcement Agencies is at risk because policies and practices are not in compliancewith CALEA standards and best practices.
• The department’s accountability tools (the IAPro accountability system and Blue Team)are under-utilized, so improving accountability department-wide is problematic.
• Auditors assessed 20 percent of the cases IIU investigated in 2011, and found theoverwhelming majority lacked significant or substantial documentation to explain therationale underlying the case resolution.
• Around 100 lower-level complaint cases that were forwarded to field supervisors forinvestigation over the last few years “disappeared”. They never came back to IIU.
• The audit says Interim Sheriff Strachan’s plan to assign lower-level complaints outsideof the formal disciplinary practice “was not successful” since IIU was not made aware ofthe complaints. This increased the sentiment that IIU is not important to the organization.
• In 2011 there were only two use of force complaint cases sent to IIU for review. Theauditors note it should be several times this for an agency this size.
• The auditors noted there has been no formal use of force training in the Sheriff's Office for 11 years. There is also no formal, continuous professional trainingprogram in place, apparently putting the department out of compliance with CALEA.
Contact Issaquah Reporter Assistant editor Kevin Endejan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-391-0363, ext. 5054.