John Urquhart Says Current Appointed Sheriff ‘Not Working Out’

Print This Post  Email This Post

by Jack Mayne

John Urquhart, 64, wants to trade in his sergeant’s stripes for the four stars of the elected sheriff of King County and to command the 1,000 people, including 600 sworn officers, of what has been called one of the best large police agencies in the state.

Urquhart is probably better known by the Seattle area media and police news buffs than the general public because he spent the past 10 years as the department’s public information officer, charged with telling reporters and the where, when and why of crime in the county.

So why does he want the top job?

“I retired in January after . . . 24 years with the Sheriff’s office.” Urquhart says. “I had no intention of running. But I started getting calls from people inside the Sheriff’s office and in all ranks from civilians up to commanders. They said, ‘this new guy is not working out. He is taking us down the wrong road and we think you ought to run for sheriff.”

He is referring to Sheriff Steve Strachan (pronounced “Stran”) who was appointed sheriff in April 2012 after serving as chief deputy under Sheriff Sue Rahr. The race for both men is for the final year of Rahr’s four-year term. The winner will have to seek a full term in 2013.

Urquhart said at first he would not run, but then says he started looking into it.

“I came to the conclusion that they were right. He (Strachan) is taking us down the road where we are going to end up in the same position that the Seattle Police Department is in where they have lost the support of the communities they police.”

He announced for sheriff on April 24.

Strachan ‘is a climber’
Urquhart says that even before Strachan started at King County, while he was wrapping up his job as chief of police in Kent, then Sheriff Sue Rahr sent all deputies an e-mail that said that Strachan would be running the day-to-day operations of the office. Virtually every reference in the department’s operations manual regarding actions that would be taken by the sheriff was changed to read “deputy chief.”

He says that Rahr “hated campaigning” and calling people for campaign donations and expressed interest in leaving the department even before the 2009 election (where she was reelected overwhelmingly). The next year she reached out to Strachan and hired him effective in 2011.

Rahr “was clearly looking for another job, she put him in charge.” When she retired to become the director of the state Criminal Justice Training Commission, the King County Council unanimously appointed Strachan.
Urquhart says Strachan had applied for four police chief jobs prior to getting hired by Rahr.

“He is a climber,” he says.

During 2011, the department had four officer related shootings, two of which were fatal, he says.

“The policy manual says a there has to be a shooting review board within 30 days of the inquest and 30 of the completion of the investigation. This is all on his watch. Those shooting review boards weren’t held, in two cases, until over a year later, in the other two cases until well over six months later.

“They weren’t held until I made a campaign issue of it in April.”

Urquhart charges that Strachan started right after he became chief deputy to decimate internal investigations.

“We have always had a captain and a clerk and three detective sergeants in there, Urquhart says. “He cut (the sergeants) down to two and tried to get rid of the captain and have those two detectives report directly to him and get rid of the clerk. He took all these investigations and shipped them down to the precincts for patrol sergeants to investigate. Patrol sergeants would be investigating their peers and they don’t have the expertise, the time, the training, the equipment to do those kinds of investigations.”

John Urquhart at Burien’s ‘Hey Paison!’

‘Devastating’ audits
The most recent departmental audit said, “there over a hundred citizen complaints that they cannot find because they weren’t tracked – they went down to the precincts to the patrol sergeants and they weren’t tracked,” Urquhart says. “It is not accurate (for Strachan) to say that my complaints are stuff that Sue Rahr did. He likes to blame me because I was down there for 10 years. I was a sergeant. I was a policy advisor but I was not a policy maker. I couldn’t change anything.

“Now we have gotten these two audits that are just devastating,” he says. “The first audit talks about the culture of management in the Sheriff’s office that doesn’t take discipline seriously. The audit talks about two uses of force complaints that went up to internal investigations in 2011. Seattle had 159 that went to internal investigations, Portland had 47, we only had two because they are not looked at, they just went up the chain and they disappear somewhere.

“It doesn’t mean that (deputies) are doing something wrong,” he says. “Neither audit talks about the men and women on the street, it talks about management only. But how can the public have confidence in what the deputies are doing if there is an allegation or if the deputies use force, they shoot somebody or something like that if we don’t investigate them at the management level?”

Urquhart wants to establish a policy review board “so we can look at training issues to see if we need to retrain the deputy or we need to retrain the department or is there a way we can counsel this guy that if you had done something else, if you had used a different tactic, perhaps you wouldn’t have had to use force at all.”

“We don’t do that now. The audit said exactly the same thing: you need a use of force board because that is best practice across the country.”

Strachan, says Urquhart, has not made “one change in the 20 months he has been running the department. He says ‘look at my business plan, all of my changes I am going to do are in the business plan.’ You don’t need a business plan, it is fluff, it is pictures and fluff and there is not one concrete proposal that he has in the business plan – that he wrote – to change the sheriff’s office, to address these issues. The term ‘investigation’ is in the business plan three times, the term internal is in the business plan twice but they are never in the same sentence.”

The real issue is not budget cuts, but how the county will police the unincorporated areas, Urquhart says.

“Does the county owe Vashon Island police services?” he asks. “Of course, even though it is a money loser. I don’t think you can look at Skyway or Vashon by themselves, we have to look at all of unincorporated King County. People ask how are you going to fight the County Council, or the executive, for money. I say that I am not going to fight with them at all – at least not publicly. I think it is counter productive. I have no problem with pounding on the desk behind closed doors.

“I am also not going to fight with the social providers like we have before. They are just as important to public safety as (the Sheriff’s Department is).

“What is most important is that I am running a Sheriff’s Department that is fiscally prudent, that understands overtime.”

“I need to know that so I can go to the County Council and say we need to hire more people rather than pay this overtime,” Urquhart says.

He says the first thing he will do if he is elected will be to “beef up internal security to where it needs to be and start a use of force review board.”

John Urquhart with Former Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, who has agreed to work with him as his Chief Deputy if elected.

“Over 50 percent of our business comes from contracts, that is a very good thing for the contracts and it is a very good thing for the department because of economies of scale (and) 50 percent of the people who work for us are in contracts,” he says. “Half of our budget comes from contract customers. The other half is from unincorporated King County, which is about 250,000 people.”

The candidate says he solidly supports the department’s contracting with cities and other jurisdictions (Muckleshoot tribe, Metro Transit, King County Airport).

“A city gets the best, we are a good police department,” Urquhart says. “From a homicide standpoint, from a major accident standpoint, from the point they don’t have to negotiate contracts, they don’t have union issues, they don’t have lawsuit issues, they don’t have use of force issues. We (Sheriff’s department) absorbs all of that,” he says. “They get the benefits of a big police department.”

Abolishing Precincts
But Urquhart charges that Strachan has done away with the precinct system so there is “this big pool of deputies that now are sent all over the county wherever they need them because we have established ‘shift minimums,’ He did this because he promised (County Executive) Dow Constantine he would reduce overtime.”

Urquhart says cancelling the precinct “zone plan” caused reduction in the minimum number of officers on each shift. That change also did away with roll calls “so that a sergeant hardly ever sees the deputies” because deputies go directly to work wherever they are assigned,”

Further, Urquhart says Strachan also reduced the number of sergeants, again to save on overtime. Fewer people mean less need to have overtime officers fill for those sick or attending court, on vacation, etc.

Manpower does not correlate with actual policing needs of a community, he says, pointing to the unincorporated Skyway area west of Renton and south of Seattle.

“There are 15,000 people and, for 22 years, there were two deputies 24 hours a day,” he says.

The primary reason is for backup because it is isolated from other areas of unincorporated King County and a second deputy is needed for backup because of the violent nature of the area.

Skyway has the second highest number of calls of any area of King County, Urquhart says and White Center has the most calls for police service.

“So what he (Strachan) did to cut overtime was eliminate all deputies in Skyway from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m., Urquhart says.

“A lot of calls in the Skyway area are dual response: the fire department will go within two blocks but won’t go the rest of the way until (deputies) make sure it is safe. So the deputies were coming from White Center (and) the fire department was waiting 20 minutes sometimes, according to the fire chief, to get a deputy. Response time matters. People die, people bleed out, they get away.”

The candidate claims it was because he made it a campaign issue that got the Skyway deputies restored to two for each shift.

“It is expensive to do that, but you just have to do it.” Urquhart said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll be posting a profile on Sheriff Steve Strachan, so check back again soon.

Print This Post  Email This Post


10 Responses to “John Urquhart Says Current Appointed Sheriff ‘Not Working Out’”
  1. Urquhart Dogcatcher says:

    Oh my gosh…B-Blog, you must be hurting for content! So much to talk about…such a long article written by John Urquhart…

    This is a letter to you John: First lets address the business plan. I know when you went to business school, they probably didn’t have those type of documents…your “recent” business experience includes carbon paper and a Selectric typewriter. Business plans fluff and pictures? Well the pictures are for you. The “fluff” is a guiding document, had you gone on to graduate school you might have heard about mission, vision, setting goals, SWOT analysis…

    But, lets look at you. You lied to the press when you stated that you had no discipline. You received a letter from your friend Dave Reichert. Just today, NW Daily Marker wrote,:
    Urquhart misled the reporter by stating the charges were “not sustained” when in fact the charge of conduct unbecoming was SUSTAINED. In a December 16, 2003 memo from then Sheriff Reichert to Sgt. John Urquhart says, “This performance plan has been developed to correct performance issues brought to light in IIU Investigation 02-099. The investigation showed that you were in violation of G.O.M. section 3.00.020(1)(f) [Conduct Unbecoming]…Your past job performance showed that the way you communicated with those you supervise created apprehension, lack of trust and low morale. This prevented you from being an effective supervisor.”

    While you can argue your definition of discipline–Your words were:“I’ve never been disciplined for anything in my career,” said Urquhart. So what do you call a performance plan for a sustained conduct unbecoming?

    In your 24 years at the Sheriff’s Office, you appeared to be an effective deputy and PIO…altho I would argue your professionalism and judgement is questionable. Did you ever consider the victim’s family when you sent the stick figure with a bloody knife? No probably not.

    The question should be in everyone’s mind…your idea of leadership. Of your 24 years in the Sheriff’s office, you had a first-line leadership position for less than 2 years. Of that time, you were on vacation and administrative leave for 4 months. Your first-line leadership role ended with a transfer away from the people you targeted. You devastated the lives of 10 people under your “leadership.” You only supervised 25! That is a failure rate of nearly 50%…Remember the Titan comes to mind. Attitude reflects Leadership. You are not a leader you a ego-centered individual whose behavior reflects a second grader.

    You say that the Sheriff’s Office is going down the wrong path…which is typical of employees used to doing business the same ole way. Also critical of the audits but that document reflected the way the things used to be.
    …when you were there!

    Just so you and the viewing public know…you are WRONG for King County….WRONG for Sheriff…I want someone who has proven C-level leadership. You aren’t even an effective supervisor. You are a top-notch spinner of facts. This article is full of spin. I didn’t have notions of running…are you kidding me…I wasn’t a policy maker…that is true…you were just a sgt. also true…you know what the “right” road for the Sheriff’s office. No…you only want to be in front of the camera again…you are an old man whose day has past. Your memory is failing…you aren’t familiar with current business practices…your pick of Anne Kirkpatrick is misplaced…why would we want a Chief Deputy who has three lawsuit judgements against her for wrongful termination when she was Chief in Spokane? Well you are two peas in a rancid pod…why don’t you return to your $2M home and let Anne practice law…I think King County will be better for it.

    • Factchecker says:

      Such a sharp tongue from someone so clearly angry. About what exactly, who knows and who cares. If you have some serious allegations, please use your real name, dates and factual occurrences so they can be fact checked and not just rumors around the office beer cooler. Or shall I say ex-employee beer cooler?

    • Wowsers says:

      No doubt, this person is obviously disturbed. I would take everything (s)he says with a HUGE grain of salt…

  2. steve says:

    John is the right person for the job. The current command staff is in fear of him getting in because they will have to do their job. That is why they are supporting Strachan. John say across from Rahr for so long that he knows her mistakes. He also knows the history of the people Rahr put in power. Strachan is a ladder climber. That business plan is all he ever talks about— It’s in the plan–just read the plan–we are doing it, it is all in the plan. The people deserve transparency which is what Strachan said his campaign would be about. He is touting15 new hires with overtime savings. The problem is that you can’t hire FTE’s with overtime savings. Two separate accounts. It is a big campaign ploy and Constantine wants Strachan as does the majority of the Council because they like puppets. He will be weak and let units fold and cut services so areas are forced to incorporate or cut services to Vashon so he can show them dollar signs. Public safety and officer safety were left out of his business plan. He is a very nice person but his business plan is for himself.

    • Heidi says:

      I agree. John has been there long enough to see what has made the Department successful and what has not. He has had the opportunity to witness and experience different styles of leadership within KCSO Admin. Community policing is a vital key to the safety and success of KCSO and over the past few years it has taken back seat. Time to bring it back.

  3. steve says:

    And you currently have a chief deputy with a 9 million dollar claim against him and Sue Rahr was like getting money from heaven for so many. Some of it is unavoidable. Strachan picked Ann Bremner as his campaign person. She his hardly the poster girl for Mothers Against Drunk Driving! She was running a press conference a couple of weeks before the election out of her office trying to get the election turned around. Maybe she thought this was Chicago–or she probably wishes Old Milwaukee! What Strachan is doing is cunning. Sending her out to do press conferences with a former employee whose husband is on Strachan’s campaign team. Then announcing the hire of 15 officers with Dow Constantine. Even notifying the newspaper! Where is his press conference on the 9 million dollar lawsuit we are paying for under the sexual harassment suit? No transparency but we area able to see through his smile. He is a politician at heart.

  4. elizabeth2 says:

    I am not for OR against Urquhart at this point.

    What DOES make me curious – is this an article or a piece of political propaganda that is being put forth as news? Do we not need to see “Sponsored Advertiser” at the top of this piece?

    If not, then we would see an equally long and thorough “article” very soon touting the qualities of Urquhart’s opponent where his opponent gets to make critical remarks?

    • Elizabeth –

      Yes, you’ll see an equally long article about Sheriff Strachan very soon.

      Please note that I *did* post an Editor’s Note at the bottom of this very story stating so:

      “EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll be posting a profile on Sheriff Steve Strachan, so check back again soon.”


      • elizabeth2 says:

        Scott – Mea culpa – you did indeed place that editor’s note at the end of the article. My apologies to you.

        I guess after 40 (+-) paragraphs, I had lost interest and patience in the above article and read no further.

        One certainly cannot accuse Mr. Mayne of succinct writing?

Share Your Opinion

By participating in our online comment system, you are agreeing to abide by the terms of our comment policy.

...and oh, if you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!