Forty-seven-year-old Steve Strachan said when he was a student at the University of Minnesota, he wanted to be a journalist. Then he had a chance encounter with a sheriff at a county fair.
“He said, ‘Law enforcement’s a great profession’. And that led to an offer to become a part-time jailer at the county sheriff’s department,’’ said Strachan.
Strachan was hooked on law enforcement and at the age of 22, landed a job as a police officer.
“To be able to be there when people need us, it’s great. I love that part of this job,” Strachan said.
Strachan had a lot of impact at the Lakeville Police Department. He was often featured in the department produced broadcast “LPD Journal” for his aggressive work as a patrol officer, for bringing in the anti-drug program DARE and for starting the school resource program.
For two years, he not only enforced laws, he wrote them as a part-time legislator, including one of the toughest drunk driving laws in state history.
He also sponsored two anti-abortion bills—something he said he would not do today. Strachan said his position on abortion has evolved over time.
“I view myself as pro-choice. Part of that is that as a law enforcement officer I see the difficult decisions individuals have to make,” he said.
Strachan was the first insider to be promoted to chief of Lakeville Police Department, but after two years he was ready for bigger things and moved to the Pacific Northwest to lead the Kent Police Department.
During his five years as Kent’s chief, Strachan cracked down on teen prostitution, jailing pimps.
“Basically, it’s human trafficking. They’re trafficking in human suffering,” he said.
He also went after the “johns” who solicit prostitutes.
But in late 2010, Strachan said King County Sheriff Sue Rahr came calling.
“She said that she felt I had the right skill set and reputation to take this department over and to be a very effective sheriff,” said Strachan.
Rahr made Strachan her chief deputy in early 2011, giving him command of day to day operations until she retired.
He’d only been sheriff a few months, when, this July, he found himself on the hot seat, defending the department after a scathing audit found a broken complaint system and lax accountability for deputies and supervisors.
It was Strachan who’d changed policy to bypass internal investigations and have sergeants handle complaints. He admits it was a mistake.
“As a long time leader in law enforcement, you try things. It doesn’t work, you move it back and that’s exactly what we did,” Strachan said.
Strachan’s been in the public eye a lot lately, whether outside a killer’s bunker in North Bend in April, when he told reporters the manhunt for Peter Keller was over, or a burglary victim’s home in Woodinville. He insists he’s not using his office as a campaign platform.
“I have always done this. I believe that the leader of the organization should be visible, should see their sheriff,” said Strachan.
He doesn’t have much to say about his opponent, former media relations officer John Urquhart, except that voters have a clear choice.
“I think that I’m a very, very strong leader in law enforcement,” he said. “I think my record shows that I’m a strong leader. At the same time I would tell you that my style is not me jumping up and down talking about Steve Strachan. It’s talking about our profession.”
Strachan said if voters elect to retain him, he’ll be a “hands on” sheriff. We found him riding a bike recently with the officers who police metro transit. He said he plans to spend time with deputies in every specialty unit. He’s also been attending new training sessions for deputies and will begin monthly use of force reviews with commanders this month.
While Strachan promises reform, he said his philosophy hasn’t changed since being sworn in 25 years ago.
“Work hard, have fun, stay safe,” he said. “And I have had so many officers come up to me, not only from Kent, but now from the sheriff’s office, who say, keep doing what you’re doing, because this is exactly what we need.”
Strachan is married and lives in Seatac. He has no children.