Burien Not Affected by Sheriff’s Office Changes, According to Chief Kimerer
by Jack Mayne
The Burien Police Department will be totally unaffected by proposed zone changes in the King County Sheriff’s office, says Police Chief Scott Kimerer.
“Burien is a stand-alone department and the staffing in the city and North Highline area is not going to change from what it presently is,” he says.
Burien contracts for its police service from the King County Sheriff’s Office. Burien taxpayers pay for specific services and the contract is totally unaffected by internal Sheriff’s office changes.
Kimerer, as Burien chief, is also has the appointed rank of major in the Sheriff’s Department, but his primary function is as a city department head and commander of the police unit.
The new second in command in Burien is Captain Scott Thompson, effectively the assistant chief. Thompson was once before in Burien but is returning from other assignments, including being chief of the Sammamish contract police unit.
Sheriff Steve D. Strachan, recently appointed to fill out the term of now retired Sheriff Sue Rahr, inherits an agency that has lost 143 positions since 2007 to budget cuts and annexations such as the southern half of North Highline Unincorporated Area a couple of years ago.
Most jobs were cut through attrition.
The Sheriff’s Office polices an unincorporated population of about 305,000, spread out over 2,100 square miles.
There are 639 sworn officer positions but only 200 work in unincorporated areas, putting the level of police staffing for county residents at one of the lowest levels in the state.
The Sheriff’s Office also runs municipal police departments under contracts with Burien, SeaTac and 10 other county cities, the King County International Airport, Metro Transit, Sound Transit and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. Contracts are unique to each community. These contracts utilize the county’s remaining 439 sworn officers work in the entities that have contracted for police services.
Kimerer said that the proposal to shift White Center and the rest of the still unincorporated North Highline area to a new fourth precinct under command of a Sheriff’s department major will only take place if area voters reject incorporation into Burien at an election in slated for November.
He says the east side of the county is low density rural suburban – much different from the west side where Burien, Sea-Tac, Tukwila, Des Moines and Normandy Park are highly populated and mostly incorporated cities, Kimerer said. The only unincorporated areas in southwest King County are the northern part of North Highline, the West Hill or Skyway area and Vashon Island.
Currently those non-city areas are under the command of Sheriff’s Major Jim Graddon, who is also the chief of the SeaTac Police Department.
“In the more populated areas we have more issues to deal with,” Kimerer said, adding it is difficult for one police commander to absorb the urban population of the southwest side and the more rural parts of east King County.
All of the county’s unincorporated areas will be divided into zones under the command of various Sheriff’s captains. The zone captains will, in turn, report to a new Precinct 4 commander who will be a Sheriff’s department major, Kimerer explained.
So, if White Center votes to be annexed to Burien, it will fall under Kimerer, and the five officers now covering the area would be maintained but would shift to Burien officers. If voters reject incorporation, the area would stay under Graddon’s command until the new unincorporated command is up and running.
One of the problems in the Sheriff’s department that the restructuring of zones is meant to solve is ability to move officers quickly to where they are needed. Currently, if a deputy is sick or otherwise unavailable, the precinct commander must do without or use overtime to fill the hole. Under the new system, the commander will be able to get regular time officers from other areas to assist without having to pay overtime. People in North Highline and Burien often see this in effect now as Burien Police cars and Sheriff’s cars and men are often seen together in Burien or in North Highline. That sight will soon become common countywide.
Kimerer says that if Burien maintains its contract with the Sheriff’s Department, unincorporated Vashon may be placed under his comment “because I am closer and to bring someone from the Eastside doesn’t make any sense.” But that is a decision that has not yet been made.