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In 2020, voters approved Charter Amendment No. 5, which changed the role of sheriff from being an elected position to an appointed position and Charter Amendment No. 6, which allows the structure and duties of the department of public safety to be established by county ordinance. As King County prepares for this transition, our office is sharing information from prior audit work to help inform decision-makers and the public about prior findings, cross-cutting cutting issues, and high-risk areas observed during our oversight.

Systemic Risk Issues

The Auditor’s Office has conducted 11 audits of the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) in the past decade, issuing 93 recommendations either to KCSO directly or concurrently with other county actors. Across these audits, we observed trends and themes that consistently arise as challenges for KCSO operations, which are summarized here into these five areas of systemic risk:

  • Administration and data quality
  • Collective bargaining
  • Contract partners
  • Staffing
  • Training

Our characterization of these topic areas as presenting systemic risk is based on a combination of factors. We identified them based on the frequency with which each topic arose in and across audit reports, the overall state and rate of progress in implementing recommendations over time, and the topics’ potential to adversely impact KCSO’s ability to provide its services in compliance with local and state regulations, maintain the safety of the community and its officers, and conduct operations in a manner that is transparent to the public.

 


Table: Areas of systemic risk cross-walked by audit reporta

Audit report
Administration
& data quality
Collective
bargaining
Contract
partners
Staffing Training
Courthouse Security
X
  X
Early Intervention System (EIS) X X


High Risk Equipment X
X X
ICEb Access to Private Data X
 
X
KCSO Operations  X
X X
King County 9-1-1 X  
 
Noise Code X
 
X
OLEO/IIUc X X
X X
Sheriff's Office Overtime X
X X X
Sex Assault Investigations X

  X X
Take Home Vehicles X
X X X

Source: King County Auditor’s Office analysis

NOTES
a The “X” marks in the table columns indicate audit reports where there are related findings and recommendations. This table does not indicate the status of those recommendations; for that information, please see the individually linked audit pages listed below.
b U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
c Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) / Internal Investigations Unit (IIU)

 


Areas of systemic risk

Tap a risk area below to expand the category and learn more about these risks and what work remains.

The King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) consistently faces administrative barriers in carrying out its law enforcement mission, with limitations in data quality and completeness central to many of these challenges. Inefficient processes and limited data hamper decision-making and oversight, and the ability of KCSO to identify and mitigate operational risks. Since 2011, at least 29 recommendations have focused on KCSO’s administration of its work: the guidance, processes, and procedures it uses to accomplish tasks and meet goals. Similarly, over the same period, we made 26 recommendations that specifically focus on issues in data quality and/or completeness. Six of these recommendations feature language overlapping both the administration and data quality elements, for a total of 49 recommendations.

WHY IT'S A SYSTEMIC RISK

KCSO’s operations are often hampered by processes that are not well designed to achieve their purpose—especially regarding IT systems. For example, during the overtime audit, we noted that the procedures for assigning overtime shifts were complex and took significant time and effort for sergeants—and yet did not ensure fairness in allocating overtime shifts or improving officer safety. [See Recommendation 12, pages 26–27 of the 2017 KSCO Overtime audit.] In turn, this impacted KCSO’s ability to protect its staff from working excessive overtime, a factor we found is associated with increased risk of vehicle accidents and use of force incidents. [See Recommendation 3, pages 7–9 of the KSCO Overtime audit.] Last year, KCSO reached a Memorandum of Agreement that addresses key issues related to overtime, but its implementation depends on updates in their time and labor data system. Our upcoming follow-up (December 2021) will examine the status of these updates and if they have reduced time spent in overtime administration. Although these types of administrative challenges can sometimes relate to legal compliance issues, in other instances they are simply inefficient. For instance, the high-risk equipment audit found inefficiencies in KCSO’s purchasing processes that could lead to officers not having items they need when they require them most. [See Recommendations 4 and 5, pages 7–9 of the 2019 Sheriff Equipment audit].

Burdensome administrative processes waste employee time and energy and miss opportunities to further KCSO’s goals, such as reducing operational risks. When sworn officers and staff spend unnecessary time on inefficient processes, those limited resources are further stressed. These issues are compounded by KCSO’s limitations with accurate and complete data collection. For example, KCSO does not track the number of off-duty hours its officers are working, hampering supervisors’ ability to monitor officer overtime. [See Recommendations 1 and 2, pages 6–9 of the 2017 KCSO Overtime audit]. Without high-quality data, it is difficult for KCSO, policy-makers, and those that provide oversight to explore issues, ground operational decisions, and identify potential improvements and efficiencies.

WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE

To address this area of risk, KCSO needs to develop data standards, improve data systems and data collection, and build the capacity to use that information to improve agency management. Of the at least 49 recommendations we have made related to administration and data quality since 2011, 26 have not been fully implemented, with 11 open since the most recent follow-up to the corresponding audit report. Completing these recommendations will improve KCSO’s management of high-risk equipment and vehicles, development and application of an early intervention system to improve officer and community safety, integrity of internal investigations, tracking of off-duty hours, assignment of overtime, and overall tracking of resource use and allocation. By implementing these recommendations, KCSO will improve the efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, and safety for both officers and the community. Given the number of incomplete recommendations, we will not list all of them below.

Examples of incomplete recommendations related to administration and data quality include that KCAO should:

  • incorporate total hours worked, including off-duty hours, into the overtime assignment criteria
  • update its General Orders Manual to explain the role of other King County offices involved in the complaint investigation and oversight process, including the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) and the King County Office of the Ombuds
  • use financial data to check the accuracy and completeness of the KCSO high-risk inventory
  • define the body of work required for the management of high-risk items, assess the capacity of existing staff to more proactively manage those items, and request an appropriate level of new resources, if needed
  • direct its Special Assault Unit to communicate to KCSO leadership how it triages its resources and associated impacts on sex offense case investigations.

RELATED REPORTS

Audit recommendations that involve collective bargaining involve critical issues and are some of the most difficult and time-consuming for the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) to implement. Between 2011 and 2021, we made over 20 recommendations that KCSO managers or other county leaders stated could not be implemented until they were bargained with the unions that represent KCSO staff.1 Over half of those recommendations are still incomplete. Recommendations in this category address significant concerns in areas such as safety and transparency, so the extended time needed to implement them reflects ongoing risks to KCSO and the County.

WHY IT'S A SYSTEMIC RISK

Fundamentally, recommendations involving bargaining are high risk because of the long time it takes to implement them. Unfortunately, the underlying reasons for the delay are unclear due to two factors: lack of agreement about and consistency in what topics must be bargained, and the bargaining process itself.

For example, we first recommended that KCSO and the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) develop adequate procedures for coordinating their work in 2012. [See Recommendation 13, pages 27–34 of the 2012 performance audit of KCSO and OLEO.] As of 2019, OLEO had shared draft procedures with KCSO, but KCSO did not review them because it said the changes would require bargaining with the King County Police Officer’s Guild (KCPOG). However, at the time, KCSO did not indicate what changes it thought must be bargained and why. KCSO’s response suggested the recommendation would not be completed until the end of bargaining for the next KCPOG contract—over a full decade after the recommendation had initially been made. However, as of the most recent audit follow-up in August 2021 (nine years after the original recommendation), KCSO and OLEO had developed consistent, shared procedures completing the recommendation as a result. It was not clear what was different between 2019 and 2021 that allowed them to develop these procedures, as the original constraint of bargaining was unchanged. While a laudable achievement, the history of this recommendation demonstrates that whether a topic’s dependence on bargaining is real or perceived is often unclear, even as the slow pace acts as a serious impediment to improvement in areas including oversight, operations, and safety.

Another example is in the early intervention system (EIS) audit. Presented in January 2017, the audit contains nine recommendations, none of which are complete. The first recommendation addresses the short 90-day “alert window” for the officer activities that make up the EIS system data. As we explained in the 2012 KCSO/OLEO audit, “a 90-day rolling period for retention of complaint and incident data for retention of complaint and incident data is not consistent with best law enforcement practices, as it is too short a period to identify employees who have performance issues.” [See Recommendation 8, pages 4–5 of the 2012 performance audit of KCSO and OLEO.] This finding was reiterated in the EIS audit, explaining that the short window was ineffective, not timely, redundant, and inefficient. [See Recommendation 1, pages 2–4 of the 2017 Early Intervention System audit.] However, the ”alert window” remains unchanged at 90 days in the KCPOG contract. As a result, the Early Intervention System tool designed to help identify and address concerns about officer performance before they escalate into larger or systemic issues has failed to alert management of concerns for the near decade it has been in place.

KCSO stated in response to our most recent follow up on the recommendations from this audit that it has committed to purchasing new Early Intervention System software that has the potential to improve supervisory review capabilities. It is essential, however, that KCSO continue to evaluate potential EIS parameters given that researchers have not yet identified the ideal EIS design. KCSO could increase opportunities to improve officer performance, wellness, and accountability by implementing the recommendations from this report.

As KCSO transitions from being led by an elected sheriff to a director appointed by the County Executive, bargaining will no longer be bifurcated between the executive and KCSO and will once again become consolidated and led by the Executive’s Office of Labor Relations. This presents new opportunities for county leadership to address concerns raised in prior audits. Implementing these recommendations faster, and with greater specificity on what barriers bargaining actually presents, will positively impact law enforcement operations and oversight.

WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE

At the time of our 2020 Law Enforcement Audit Program report, 61 percent of bargaining-related recommendations were not yet fully implemented, despite many of them having been made more than five years previously. It will be necessary for leaders to work proactively to ensure that the recommendations are implemented in a timely manner.

The King County Council may be able to use its labor policy to help highlight the importance of unimplemented recommendations, so that they can be prioritized for future rounds of contract negotiation.

KCSO should:

  • develop and document interim timeframes to ensure the timely progression of complaint investigations conducted by the IIU
  • increase the EIS alert window as previously recommended in 2012
  • identify and regularly reevaluate additional indicators for the EIS
  • regularly reevaluate and refine alert algorithms for different indicators; these algorithms should take into account the differing frequency and severity of incidents
  • evaluate EIS and develop a continuous improvement plan
  • determine the data necessary to evaluate the EIS’s effectiveness, and ensure that this data is available for future analysis
  • evaluate and respond to trends using data available through the EIS; KCSO should use this data to identify and take action on areas needing improvement
  • document and integrate into its staffing system how it determines patrol minimums for unincorporated King County and how it calculates the relief factor it uses to set staffing targets.

RELATED REPORTS


NOTES

1 We reassigned two recommendations from the 2015 law enforcement oversight audit to the County Executive following changes to the King County Charter. We also closed two recommendations as circumstances changed.

The King County Sheriff’s Office’s (KCSO) 16 contract partner relationships are complex and dictate much of the department’s funding; they also create risks due to differences in policies, resources, and service delivery. KCSO’s operational model includes significant relationships with contract partners, including local cities and towns, King County Metro Transit, King County International Airport-Boeing Field, and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe . These partners range broadly in size and the type of law enforcement services that they contract with KCSO to provide. Some elements are akin to a “fee-for-service” model, while others are included as part of a total contract cost. Together, KCSO’s contracting revenues provide over half of its operations budget. Contracted services are part of a standardized interlocal agreement (ILA), with each entity’s level of service specified as an exhibit to the ILA. This contracting structure allows for each individual contract partner to select from a menu of options relative to the larger ILA. However, substantive changes to the main ILA require significant time, investment, and coordination among all of the contract partners and KCSO. Accordingly, the ILA itself dates to 2001, with each contract partner’s exhibits updated every few years.

Although we have not conducted a stand-alone audit of KCSO’s contracting processes, we have made audit recommendations that directly involve the relationships between KCSO and its contract partners since 2016. Between 2011 and 2021, our office made a total of seven recommendations involving KCSO’s contract entity relationships. Of the seven recommendations, none have been fully implemented by KCSO. Five have made progress toward completion, one is open, and one was closed and is no longer being monitored by the Auditor’s Office. These recommendations center on the complex dynamics of KCSO contract partner staffing, and the shared responsibilities for equipment that is owned and provided by contract partners, but used by KCSO employees.

WHY IT'S A SYSTEMIC RISK

KCSO’s relationships with contract partners present risk because of the division of costs and services between the County and its contract partners and the potential policy differences between different partners’ leaders. Contract partners can have financial resources to purchase equipment or invest in higher staffing, for example, than KCSO does for other jurisdictions or for unincorporated portions of the County. This can result in differences in service levels and resources and can contribute to risk. For instance, in our audit of high-risk equipment, we found that KCSO did not have purchasing safeguards in place for items acquired by contract partners, which could lead to deputies not being properly trained to safely use some equipment [See Recommendation 6, page 13 of the KCSO High Risk Equipment audit].

In addition, fully accounting for differences between contracts becomes highly complex relative to KCSO operations. For example, during the overtime audit, the differences in shift scheduling and financial resources between contract partners and unincorporated King County presented challenges in identifying the root causes of overtime. The contract partner entity-KCSO relationship also creates policy complexities—even more so in light of the recent charter changes approved by voters specifying the County Council’s authority to set law enforcement policy. This is because the policy interests of a contract city—traffic enforcement, for example—can be quite different from other partners and the county as a whole—including potential direction from Council. Ensuring data accuracy, procedural clarity, fairness in cost allocation, and transparency in policy-setting and direction are all central to managing this complex topic.

WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE

None of our recommendations related to contract partners and management of contracts are fully implemented, however KCSO has made progress on some. As the County moves forward, it may be necessary for KCSO and leaders to consider how the contract partners approach to service provision creates management challenges and the extent to which those challenges impact public safety in King County.

KCSO should:

  • establish clear guidance on the use of equipment purchased and owned by its contract partners. This guidance should be documented and address the risks and potential liabilities of these items.
  • evaluate its staffing model to better account for the difference between unincorporated (i.e., King County) precinct staffing and contract partners’ staffing. Contract partners are on different schedules than county precincts; because new KCSO officers are trained in county areas, the number of non-deployable officers is higher in unincorporated areas.
  • fully implement agreed limits on how much overtime officers can work and changing the prioritization structure of overtime assignments in the shift scheduling system
  • create a staffing model for unincorporated patrol that accurately reflects both current and future staffing needs, the actual number of deputies that can be deployed to meet patrol minimums, and opportunities to reduce how often unincorporated patrol schedules rotate to create more days with overlapping squads on duty
  • update its procurement policies to align purchasing requirements and processes with the risk level of the item
  • improve guidance for staff making purchasing requests, including the specification of what information should be included in purchasing memos
  • develop and document agreements with contract partners to identify KCSO operational approval for high-risk items to address potential liability and ensure all such items have appropriate controls.

RELATED REPORTS

Over the years, the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) has consistently expressed challenges with staffing. Similarly, multiple audits have identified problems with KCSO’s planning and modeling around staffing needs. Higher quality staffing analyses would help KCSO better understand how their most important assets—their people—spend their time, and could help leadership to better manage resources, improve safety, and demonstrate the impacts from insufficient staffing.

Between 2011 and 2021, our office made a total of 16 recommendations involving KCSO’s staffing measures, modeling, scheduling, or tracking of work hours. Of the 16 recommendations, five have been fully implemented by KCSO, four have made progress toward completion, three are open, and four were closed and are no longer being monitored by the Auditor’s Office.

WHY IT'S A SYSTEMIC RISK

Audit recommendations consistently identify staffing as an area of systemic risk for KCSO. Not because of inadequate staffing per se, but because KCSO’s difficulty in developing and applying consistent staffing models impedes transparent and effective resource allocation. Staffing is a key driver of costs and determines responsiveness and service delivery. Without high-quality staffing models based on accurate data and supported by performance measures, KCSO is limited in determining the staffing it needs to meet agency goals. In addition, it is difficult to estimate the impact that budget cuts or operational changes will have on service delivery.

KCSO’s ability to identify and document its staffing needs is generally weak, as the office lacks consistent staffing models and documented measures for determining its staffing needs. In the past, KCSO’s staffing practices have obscured basic information such as the real number of patrol officers that are actually deployable. [See Recommendation 5, page 15 of the 2017 KSCO overtime audit.] These gaps ultimately reduce KCSO’s ability to strategically manage its existing staffing resources or express the impact that limited staffing has on its work. For example, our team for the overtime audit found that KCSO did not document how it determined its patrol levels or relief factors relative to the shift structure in its time and labor system. [See Recommendations 6 and 7, pages 15–16 of the 2017 KSCO overtime audit.] This made it unclear whether patrol minimums or targeted staffing levels were set appropriately or if they could be managed more efficiently. The audit team recommended that KCSO document and integrate into its staffing model how it determines patrol minimums for unincorporated King County and how it calculates the relief factor it uses to set staffing targets. Similar audit recommendations apply to KCSO staffing for internal investigations and sexual offense cases. This type of information is critical to KCSO operations because, as shown in the overtime audit, working long hours can have adverse effects on officer safety and performance and may be associated with incidents such as vehicle accidents and uses of force.

WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE

KCSO and other decision-makers could use better information on KCSO staffing needs in order to determine budget needs and the potential impact of budget cuts. Without good information, it will be difficult for decision-makers to understand and assess KCSO performance.

KCSO should:

  • conduct a staffing analysis of the Internal Investigations Unit (IIU). The analysis should include information on the (a) total number of investigations, (b) types of investigations, (c) numbers of investigations IIU handles that are equal employment opportunity or human resources investigations, (d) number of investigations being handled by each IIU investigator, (e) number of hours requires to complete each investigation, and (f) comparative information on workloads of internal investigations units from other jurisdictions.
  • document and integrate into its staffing system how it determines patrol minimums for unincorporated King County and how it calculates the relief factor it uses to set staffing targets)
  • create a staffing model for unincorporated patrol that accurately reflects both current and future staffing needs, the actual number of deputies that can be deployed to meet patrol minimums, and opportunities to reduce overtime
  • direct its Special Assault Unit to develop and document criteria for how it triages case investigations.

RELATED REPORTS

Training is critical to ensure the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) staff has the knowledge and skills needed to implement policies and laws. This is particularly important as the county and state explore and implement legal changes that affect law enforcement’s duties and responsibilities.2 Training is a recurring risk area in audit findings: from 2011 through 2021, at least 14 audit recommendations were related to training. Thematically, these recommendations aim to ensure KCSO staff has the knowledge needed to perform its duties in compliance with agency and county expectations. Recommendations involving training often address gaps between what is written in agency policy or procedure and what occurs in practice. For example, in the sexual assault investigations audit, the audit team noted that inconsistent training for patrol deputies hampered their ability to build trust with victims and negatively impacted KCSO’s ability to investigate such cases effectively. [See Recommendation 5, pages 15-16 of the 2020 Sex Offense Cases audit.] Anecdotally, training is a challenging topic due to funding challenges—including staff time to attend training—and because the depth and focus of training has changed significantly over time.

The Auditor’s Office has never done a comprehensive review of KCSO training. We intended to conduct an audit of KCSO training practices during our 2019-2020 work program period, but unanticipated audit work related to the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the training audit. We may undertake further focused work in this area in the future. Of the 14 training-related recommendations embedded in our other reports, KCSO has completed 10, and two more are in progress. One recommendation is open, and another has not yet been reviewed through the audit follow-up process.

WHY IT'S A SYSTEMIC RISK

Without sufficient training, staff may lack the skills necessary to perform duties effectively, safely, and in compliance with KCSO’s policies and values. Training is key to ensuring KCSO staff understands KCSO policies and expectations—and has the knowledge to conduct work in alignment with those expectations. Robust and responsive training practices will continue to be crucial to KCSO operations given recent changes in state and local laws that impact law enforcement’s duties and responsibilities surrounding mental health crises, high speed chases, and the appropriate uses of physical force. As laws and standards change at the state and county level to better align with emerging promising practices, training will be an essential component of bridging the gap between theory and practice for KCSO.

WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE

KCSO should continue to provide training to its staff to ensure it is able to perform duties effectively and in-line with agency, county, and state expectations. Examples of audit recommendations which remain outstanding include:

  • KCSO should ensure training officers and sergeants receive training on the new sex offense checklist (Recommendation 4) and handout (Recommendation 1)
  • KCSO should consult with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office on how KCSO should handle noise enforcement, develop policies to clarify its approach, and communicate these policies to deputies
  • KCSO should develop clear and consistent verbal instructions for security screeners that minimizes confusion about how to unload trays.

RELATED REPORTS


NOTES

2 House Bill 1310 establishes new use of force standards for police in Washington state and House Bill 1054 limits the use of certain police tactics, such as vehicle pursuits and neck restraints.


Law Enforcement Audits

Listed below in reverse order of publication. Tap an audit title to expand the section and learn more.

website: Sex Offense Investigations and Outcomes

issues: admin, staffing, training

  • We found that some victims may miss out on key services due to process and training gaps, particularly if their cases are not assigned to detectives or prosecuted. Also, limited resources and heavy workloads make it difficult for detectives and prosecutors to meet established best practices and resolve cases in a timely manner.

  • Most recent follow-up completed August 2, 2021 – KCSO has made important progress towards implementing recommendation to improve their responses to sex offense cases and to meet victims’ needs. Despite concurring at the time of report publication, KCSO is not currently planning, however, to implement two recommendation that could help build more consistency in how cases are prioritized.

WEBSITE: Courthouse Security

ISSUES: admin, staffing

  • There are some actions the Court Protection Unit can take to speed lines at entrances, although many efficiency challenges are beyond its control. Additional marshal staffing is likely necessary to keep the Fourth Avenue entrance to the downtown courthouse open more consistently.

  • Follow-up pending, to be completed in 2022.

WEBSITE: ICE Access to Private Data

ISSUES: admin, training

  • Federal immigration agents maintained access to nonpublic information collected by law enforcement agencies, in violation of county code. County policies discuss the need to safeguard information, but training and accountability is lacking.

  • Most recent follow-up completed November 26, 2019 — KCSO has implemented policies and procedures to prevent the unauthorized release of sensitive personal information to federal agents conducting civil immigration enforcement.

WEBSITE: High Risk Equipment

ISSUES: admin, contract Partners, staffing

  • KCSO has some safeguards in place, but does not have a coordinated, proactive approach to protecting its equipment. This may be putting the County, the public, and officers at risk if dangerous items were lost or stolen and then misused in the community to cause injury. Limited staffing and gaps in safeguards mean that KCSO’s equipment is not fully accounted for.

  • Most recent follow-up completed August 2, 2021 — KCSO has taken initial steps that will enable it to implement the audit recommendations.

WEBSITE: Noise Code

ISSUES: admin, training

  • Noise enforcement is generally working well. However, KCSO has not emphasized implementation of the noise code, and has not trained its deputies on how to handle difficult noise issues. As a result, KCSO rarely issues citations for violating the noise code, and a small number of chronic noise cases are unresolved.

  • Most recent follow-up completed April 1, 2021 — KCSO staff developed a policy providing direction to deputies on where to find guidance for enforcing the noise code, thereby addressing all of the report’s recommendations.

WEBSITE: Overtime

ISSUES: admin, bargaining, staffing

  • KCSO relies on overtime to meet staffing and training requirements for patrol. However, working long hours can have adverse effects on officer safety and performance. KCSO has limited opportunities to reduce total overtime without hiring more officers, but it can take steps to modify schedules to more efficiently meet training needs. In addition, KCSO can take steps to prevent individual officers from working too many hours.

  • Most recent follow-up completed on August 3, 2020 — Despite minimal changes in the overall status of audit recommendations since our April 2019 follow-up, KCSO continues to make progress in its implementation efforts. Contract negotiations remain a hurdle to completing audit recommendations, as noted during our April 2019 audit follow up.

WEBSITE: Early Intervention Systems

ISSUES: admin, bargaining

  • EIS in KCSO uses time and resources but is not achieving many of its potential benefits. EIS are meant to identify early signs of problematic officer behavior and facilitate intervention before larger issues arise. KCSO’s EIS, however, is not designed or applied in a way that achieves these benefits.

  • Most recent follow-up completed August 2, 2021 — KCSO has made progress to improve the effectiveness of the EIS, but key decisions on indicators and alert timeframes used are contingent on labor cooperation and have not yet been implemented.

WEBSITES: Law Enforcement Oversight 20152012

ISSUES: admin, bargaining, staffing, training

  • Civilians responsible for overseeing investigations of complaints of police misconduct in King County have less authority than their counterparts in other locations. In addition, they face barriers related to independence and access to information—elements that are critical to the success of oversight. Notably, civilian oversight operations are defined by the terms of labor contracts. Consequently, the processes and authority of oversight are defined by KCSO and its employees, creating a conflict of interest that cannot be easily resolved. We have conducted two separate audits of law enforcement oversight in King County and have made recommendations relating to both OLEO and KCSO IIU.

  • Most recent follow-up completed August 2, 2021— KCSO and OLEO have had some notable successes. Among both audits, KCSO and OLEO completed a total of 23 recommendations that improve the effectiveness of law enforcement and civilian oversight, but missing guidance and contractual barriers prevented completion of five more.

WEBSITE: King County 911 System

ISSUES: admin

  • King County was an early leader in updating and enhancing its 911 system. However, it moved forward without a clear plan and lacked an effective governance structure that includes emergency dispatch centers. These issues, along with the added costs to implement newer technology, resulted in strained relationships and lack of agreement on a path forward.

  • Most recent follow-up completed June 14, 2018 — The King County E911 Program Office implemented our audit recommendations to develop a governance process, agree on a financial baseline, and jointly plan for Next Generation 911 technology through a two-year strategic planning process. As of this follow-up, all of the report’s recommendations have been completed, however the E911 Program Office and PSAP partners (Public Safety Answering Points, i.e. emergency dispatch centers) have not yet determined how to ensure financial sustainability past 2023.

WEBSITE: Take Home Vehicles

ISSUES: admin, bargaining, contract partners, staffing

  • Moving KCSO from its existing take-home vehicle program to a pooled vehicle program would not result in cost savings given KCSO’s current structure and organization. However, there are some patrol areas and non-patrol functions where the current take-home program is more expensive than a pooled approach and where savings are possible.

  • Most recent follow-up completed December 1, 2020 — KCSO developed a new vehicle assessment tool, making it possible to select vehicles with expected performance at the lowest cost. By creating the tool, KCSO is able to better analyze the costs of vehicle assignments, completing the last remaining recommendation from the audit.

WEBSITE: KCSO Operations

ISSUES: admin, contract partners, staffing

  • Leading into 2011, KCSO’s budget to serve unincorporated areas was decreased, both by the reduction in the unincorporated service area due to annexations and incorporations and by county revenue shortfalls. This resulted in a greater proportion of the KCSO budget being supported by contract revenue. As of 2011, contract revenue represents over half of the KCSO budget.

  • Most recent follow-up completed January 12, 2016 — KCSO has made minimal progress in addressing the three remaining recommendations from our 2011 audit. These recommendations all relate to the need to set standards for how police services are to be delivered and then to design operations and develop staffing plans to meet those standards. Given the lack of progress over the past five years, the Auditor’s Office chose to discontinue monitoring the implementation of these recommendations. However, our office will continue to consider whether these topics merit revisiting in future audits of KCSO.

Council briefing

On December 8, 2020, the Auditor's Office presented to the County Council on a CAD data tool that we assisted in the development of. Watch the briefing below (59:00).

Law Enforcement Audit Program

In 2006, the King County Council established the Law Enforcement Audit Program (LEAP) within the Auditor’s Office. Through this program, we provide impactful and independent oversight of the criminal-legal system by making recommendations for improvement in performance and equity to criminal-legal departments, offices, and functions in King County. We issue at least one public report per year in this topic area.

Download the 2020 LEAP Report .

Learn More

For additional information, please contact Brooke Leary, Law Enforcement Audit Manager, at brooke.leary@kingcounty.gov.

We also encourage you to subscribe to our reports to keep up-to-date on new and ongoing audit work.