King County Sheriff Sue Rahr resigns for state training post
March 20, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
The lethal shootout between rival gangs at Lake Sammamish State Park on a summer night in 2010 offered lessons to King County Sheriff Sue Rahr as law enforcement officers encountered a rise in gang activity in unexpected places.
“What we learned there is that gangs definitely were moving out of the city and, basically, staking out certain places where they felt that they could socialize uninhibited and pretty much do whatever they wanted,” she said in a March 15 interview.
Rahr plans to step down as the top law enforcement officer in King County on March 31 after a long career in local law enforcement to lead the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.
The sheriff led the King County Sheriff’s Office as budgets dwindled, crimes turned more sophisticated and concerns about gang violence lingered — a problem illustrated by the state park shootings.
“In ‘79, gang violence wasn’t even on the radar. Then, in the mid to late ‘80s, we started seeing it, and then there was a real explosion of it in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It stayed high but it kind of plateaued out,” she said. “In the last five years, there’s been a resurgence of gang violence.”
In April 1992, Rahr served in the anti-gang unit as a gang battle reached Issaquah. Police said a man firing from a car wounded a 22-year-old Seattle man at Lake Sammamish State Park. Police then described the incident as the first drive-by shooting on the Eastside.
The sheriff, a 32-year law enforcement officer, said although budget reductions posed a challenge, sheriff’s office employees streamlined the agency.
“I don’t have the philosophy of do more with less. My philosophy is figure out how to do it differently,” she said. “We’ve restructured. We’ve changed the way that we respond to things, so it’s not what is going to pile more work on each individual. We’re going to figure out a way to do it more efficiently.”
‘Follow in my footsteps’
Rahr had been expected to resign since accepting the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission post in late February. The organization trains all law enforcement officers in Washington, except for Washington State Patrol troopers.
The outgoing sheriff designated the No. 2 official at the sheriff’s office, Chief Deputy Steve Strachan, to serve as interim sheriff.
“He is a very ethical, hardworking guy,” Rahr said. “I could not have designed a better person to follow in my footsteps.”
Strachan, a former Kent police chief and former state legislator in Minnesota, is due to lead the agency until the King County Council confirms a successor. Strachan joined the sheriff’s office as chief deputy in January 2011. Rahr met each council member and endorsed Strachan for the post.
Rahr’s successor is expected to serve until King County voters elect a sheriff in November.
The council lauded the outgoing sheriff for acquiring federal grants to help the agency purchase helicopters. Rahr also upgraded technology at the sheriff’s office.
Councilwoman Kathy Lambert — Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee chairwoman and the Issaquah representative — highlighted crime-prevention efforts.
“Thanks to the leadership of Sheriff Rahr, King County has been innovative and made great progress in crime prevention and community policing,” she said in a statement. “She shepherded the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force through review and implementation, and served with a legacy of integrity. Her leadership will serve the state training center well.”
‘I never saw obstacles’
The outgoing sheriff also leaves a legacy as a trailblazer — as the first woman to lead the sheriff’s office.
“I never saw obstacles for myself. I never felt that there was a problem that I couldn’t tackle if I was willing to work hard enough,” Rahr said. “Sometimes I had to deal with some tremendous resistance, but at the end of the day, I never accepted that there was something I couldn’t do.”
In 2004, Dave Reichert tapped Rahr, a veteran deputy and former Shoreline police chief, as the next sheriff. King County voters later elected her to the post by a landslide in 2005. In 2009, she faced no opposition for re-election.
(Reichert left the sheriff’s office after winning the 8th Congressional District seat; he continues to represent Issaquah and the area in the U.S. House of Representatives.)
“The thing I know about Sue is that she is a person who likes to collaborate,” he said in a March 16 interview. “She likes to bring people together and get the input of everyone involved in the decision-making process, so she has all of the information to make a decision.”
Rahr intends to expand efforts in justice-based policing — a process to help law enforcement officers and the public interact better — at the state training academy.
“We do a very, very good job of teaching police officers techniques — defensive tactics, shooting, driving and all of that stuff. What I want to do is add to that,” she said. “I don’t want to stop doing that, because that’s important, but we need to add a whole other component, and that is how you use tactical communication and human psychology to get people to comply with what you need them to do.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.