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John Urquhart Sworn In Today As New King County Sheriff

King County Sheriff John Urquhart
KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang

There’s a new sheriff in town, at least in King County: John Urquhart will officially take over as King County Sheriff today.

Urquhart was the long-time spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, and he was well known for his colorful press releases, with titles like: “Two Men Arrested After Dragging Cow With Car.”

He officially retired from the department earlier this year and was looking forward to “going golfing, sitting on the beach, fixing my house, doing all those kinds of things that retired people do,” he said.

But then, Urquhart said, friends urged him to come out of retirement and to run for sheriff.

“I said no, no, no. Then I started looking at what they were saying, and I thought, yeah, I think I can do this job. I think I can do the job that needs to be done,” he said.

Urquhart beat out incumbent Sheriff Steve Strachan by a wide margin.

He now faces a laundry list of challenges. Two recent independent audits were highly critical of the department, and in particular, how it responded to officer-involved shootings.

Urquhart says the audits did not fault the rank and file, but they pointed to a lack of leadership in the department. “And that’s a culture that I want to change,” he said.

Urquhart also faces a perennial funding crisis. The Sheriff’s Office has had to cut more than 150 deputies over the last five years. It is also scheduled to close its cold case unit. That unit is paid for by a federal grant, which has run out. Urquhart says he will try to find funding for it locally, but he admits that will be a challenge.

“There’s no money, there’s no money for government, and we’ve all been hit by that, including the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “But public safety is job one for government, and I have to make sure that whatever money we do have, we use it wisely, and we protect the citizens of King County.”

Urquhart says his focus will be to ensure that the department is sufficiently staffed to respond to 911 calls, and then, he says, to build out from there.

Year started with KUOW: 2005