King County Sheriff says budget cuts will lead to more crime

Parts of the Eastside could soon seem like the Wild, Wild West because of King County budget cuts that will significantly affect law enforcement.

Unincorporated King County will have less law enforcement

Parts of the Eastside could soon seem like the Wild, Wild West because of King County budget cuts that will significantly affect law enforcement.

King County Sheriff Sue Rahr and Metropolitan King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who represents District 3 including Redmond, appeared at a sparsely-attended Town Hall meeting at Rosa Parks Elementary School in Redmond Ridge on Thursday night, to talk about cuts to the Sheriff’s Office budget.

The cuts have resulted in the loss of 21 positions, both commissioned and non-comissioned personnel. King County Executive Ron Sims has called for more reductions in 2009, further slashing up to 70 more jobs in the Sheriff’s Office.

Citizens in unincorporated areas of northeast King County — including parts of Redmond, Woodinville and Duvall — would be “terribly exposed” to crimes including thefts/burglaries valued under $10,000, bad checks/fraud and regional drug rings because loss of deputies and staff would eliminate most investigations, said Rahr.

The King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) is the primary service provider for about 250,000 people in those unincorporated areas. Most newly formed cities in Precinct 2 — such as Sammamish and Woodinville — also contract with them, accounting for another 250,000 people served.

“We also are Sound Transit and Metro Transit police — we cover 2,000 square miles with that service … and handle homicides, forensics, Homeland Security. … We really are a metropolitan police unit,” Rahr emphasized, countering the notion of a quaint sheriff’s department in a fictional town like Mayberry.

She referred to a handout about “Public Safety in Peril,” with a graph showing projected county budget deficits through 2012.

“This (problem) is going to grow every year — it’s not like we can just tighten our belt and have everything come up rosy. It’s simple math,” said Rahr. “When money is short, you are forced into difficult decisions … to reduce levels of services in some areas.”

About 85 percent of Rahr’s budget covers employee wages and 12 percent covers custodial and other services.

As she discussed impacts to the Sheriff’s Office, also including reductions in neighborhood storefront centers and outreach services for youth, she compared her dilemma to that of families juggling household budgets.

“We still gotta feed the kids but maybe they get macaroni instead of steak,” she noted. “Crimes against persons? We’re not going to cut there. When you dial 911, you need a cop and you need them fast. For the homicide unit or assaults, you’ll see very little cuts there. Property crimes? We have to set a threshold. If your home is burglarized, we’ll take a report but there isn’t going to be a detective there.”

Priority will be placed on situations where people are in immediate danger, with a hands-off approach for peripheral or simmering problems. For example, it’s known that large drug operations from Canada are “quietly setting up shop in Washington state” but “drug trafficking will not be a target of our investigations,” she explained.

As well, there will be far less resources to address domestic violence and “cold cases.” Rahr said there are currently 150 unsolved homicides in King County, some of which are 20 years old.

“You probably are familiar with one of our most famous cases, the Green River Killer. It takes a tremendous amount of time to investigate such a case,” she remarked.

Rahr has already reduced the number of patrol cars in her jurisdiction, necessitating more sharing among deputies. She said she can live with asking deputies to take on more administrative work and that her office can make do with less janitorial services, but she’s still worried about public safety.

Lambert, who chairs the Law, Justice and Human Services Committee of the county council, told citizens at the Redmond Ridge gathering that their local needs are her utmost concern but other members of the Metropolitan King County Council don’t share the urgency to protect them, “since most live within cities — they’re not invested in this area.”

She said she’s even heard comments that “people who chose to live in new housing developments or unincorporated areas should have thought about that ahead of time,” as if they don’t deserve the same protection as those in more established communities.

Both Lambert and Rahr expressed amazement that they’ve seen upwards of 700 people at Town Hall meetings regarding the conditions of animal shelters in King County, yet have never seen more than 70 show up for meetings to discuss public safety — perhaps because of a false sense that nothing bad happens here. There’s still time for citizens to weigh in with their opinions before the county council votes on the 2009 budget this fall.

“Our government representatives are going to listen to the people who make the most noise,” Lambert declared.

Rahr agreed, encouraging citizens to send their questions and comments to all nine members of the Metropolitan King County Council, not just to Lambert, “because then you’ll just be preaching to the choir.”

For more information, contact Councilmember Lambert at (206) 296-1003 or or visit