Audit says oversight of King County sheriff's deputies is lax

Jul 24, 2012

The King County Sheriff’s Department does a poor job of investigating police misconduct complaints. That’s the conclusion of an outside audit of the department. This comes five years after the county pledged to implement improvements in the troubled law enforcement agency.

Law enforcement oversight in King County, according to the auditors, is either non existent or ineffective. Auditor Justin Anderson told the King County Council  investigators found numerous examples of officer misconduct complaints simply disappearing.  

“They weren’t missing in the sense that they were lost. They’d essentially been abandoned. The incident had entered the track, but then no longer been followed up once it had been referred out to the field," he said.

Anderson said there were about 100 such cases in the past year.

Earlier this year, KING-TV highlighted many of the problems spelled out in the audit. Here's a link to their series "Bully with a Badge."

'Buzz off'?

King County council members expressed frustration at the lack of progress in making the Sheriff’s office more accountable. Five years ago they set up a blue ribbon panel to try and increase accountability. The outside audit was commissioned by the council to see what improvements have been made.

Councilwoman Kathy Lambert says she's disturbed by the fact that so many field supervisors apparently fail to follow up on officer misconduct complaints.

“To me, that’s a passive aggressive behavior and passive aggressive behavior is the same as saying 'buzz off' and that’s not O.K,” she said.

King County Sheriff Steve Strachan told the council he was "humbled" by the report.

He acknowledges it will take an institutional mindset shift to make the department more accountable.

Police misconduct cases have cost the department in both public trust and money. In one high profile case the county paid out $10 million to settle with a man who was left brain damaged after being slammed into a wall by a King County deputy.