Sgt. John Urquhart has been the spokesman for the King County Sheriff's Department on almost every issue and retired months ago. But on Tuesday, he announced he's throwing his hat into the ring for sheriff because the department is at a crossroads and things need to change.
Fighting crime and good police work go hand in hand with accountability. They are not mutually exclusive, he said at a news conference.
Urquhart, 64, retired from his role as spokesman last year after 24 years with the agency. But at Tuesday's news conference, he sounded like an outsider in his calls for reforms and more accountability to citizens.
[Citizens of King County] want a police agency that is tough on crime, but understands you can't arrest your way out of every problem in society, Urquhart said. They do not want a police agency that has the attitude that we're the cops and you're not.
Urquhart described an office that's lax in accountability, where citizen complaints aren't being fully investigated and use of force by officers isn't being properly reviewed, even when citizens die.
Urquhart said the department hasn't done enough soul-searching about the use of force. He pointed to four officer-involved shootings in 2011 - two of them fatal - that weren't reviewed.
There should have been a shooting review within 30 days; there was not, he said. That will not happen when I'm sheriff.
Urquhart criticized the department for failing to learn from its mistakes in even the most egregious cases, such as one caught on video where Deputy Matt Paul is seen slamming an innocent man into a wall, leaving him damaged for life.
Even after King County paid out $10 million to settle lawsuits, then-Sheriff Sue Rahr defended the deputy's tactics.
There was no evidence of misconduct on the part of Deputy Paul, she said.
But KING 5 obtained his file and found there was never even an investigation into Paul's use of force.
I think he made a mistake, said Urquhart. No question about that, no question about that.
Urquhart said he was urged to run by people inside the department, but he knows his calls for increased accountability may not be popular with some - and he's made a decision.
I will not seek the endorsement of the Police Guild or Captain's Guild because I think there's a huge conflict of interest, said Urquhart.
Urquhart said accountability has declined since early 2011. That's when Rahr brought in former Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan to be her heir-apparent and handed over a lot of management to him.
Strachan became temporary sheriff a few weeks ago and wants the job permanently. When asked to Urquhart's criticisms, he responded, This will be the first hotly contested race for King County sheriff in many years and it's off to a very interesting start.
Urquhart's announcement comes after King County Sheriff Sue Rahr stepped down to become the director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.
Update, 4/25: Excellent nugget fromWednesday's Seattle Times:
Saying the war on drugs has been an abject failure, Urquhart supports Initiative 502, which seeks to legalize marijuana in Washington state. And I was a narcotics detective, he pointed out.
Strachan said he welcomes more clarity in the state's medical-marijuana laws, which I-502 might bring. But he stopped short of endorsing legalization. At the end of the day it's up to the will of the people, he said.