Kent Police Chief Strachan to leave city for King County undersheriff job

File photo of Police Chief Steve Strachan as he talks at a council workshop. - CHARLES CORTES, Kent Reporter
File photo of Police Chief Steve Strachan as he talks at a council workshop.
— image credit: CHARLES CORTES, Kent Reporter

Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan agreed to accept an offer from King County Sheriff Sue Rahr to be her new undersheriff starting in January 2011.

"I've been here 4 1/2 years and I was certainly not looking for something different," Strachan, 45, said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I was approached by the sheriff and we talked about the opportunities and challenges of the new job and it was humbling to be asked to take on that role. It's tough to leave Kent but I will serve Kent in a different way."

Rahr announced Tuesday that Strachan will take on a new job next year in the Sheriff's Office as an undersheriff. Strachan will remain the Kent chief until sometime in December.

Deputy chief Mike Painter will serve as interim chief once Strachan leaves, Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke said in a phone interview.

"I haven't decided," Cooke said about when she hopes to hire a new chief. "I will do an outside search. We have talent in house as well. Mike Painter said he would serve as interim chief but would not apply to be the chief."

Rahr has been working for more than a year to restructure the command and organization of the Sheriff's Office in order to save money, according to a Sheriff's Office media release.

In addition, with growing Metro Transit policing and significant annexations, the Sheriff's Office will function more efficiently with an undersheriff Rahr said.

Rahr cut two command staff positions in June and two more are slated for elimination in 2011. The undersheriff will take on responsibility for overseeing much of the work that was managed by those commanders.

"The King County Sheriff's Office has current challenges, but also tremendous talent and potential," Strachan said. "I especially look forward to building bridges with the municipal police agencies. I believe we can continue to make progress on enhanced cooperation between all of our agencies in King County."

The Sheriff's Office has more than 1,000 employees and serves the law enforcement needs of more than 500,000 people in unincorporated areas and 12 contract cities, including Covington.

Strachan has served as the Kent Police chief since 2006. He has more than 25 years of law enforcement experience. Strachan served as Chief of Police in Lakeville, Minn., before coming to Kent.

Cooke praised Strachan for his work.

"I am thrilled for Steve because I think he is great," Cooke said in a phone interview Tuesday. "He has been a delight to work with. He brought fresh ideas, is a good listener and has a great sense of humor."

Cooke said Strachan demonstrated strong leadership overseeing the police department as well as the city jail.

"He's left everybody a little bit enriched with what he brought to the table," Cooke said. "He has the ability to listen to officers and he worked to partner with so many people in the community.

"The chief sets the tone and the police department has been successful because of the teamwork within the department. We have some great officers and staff."

Cooke knows Rahr noticed the job Strachan has done.

"It's nice to be the department where the chief is sought to fill a countywide position," Cooke said.

Strachan will take on budget battles with the county. King County has announced it might have to lay off as many as 28 deputies this year because of budget cutbacks. Strachan said the reorganization of the Sheriff's Office by Rahr still needs to be approved by the King County Metropolitan Council.

"This is a really challenging time for any public sector organization as resources get scarcer," Strachan said. "This is not about going to a bigger organization but another opportunity to be innovation in how to do your job. We need to be more efficient in how we deliver services with shrinking resources.

"I've done that in Kent and to do that in a different role is something I relish."

Strachan, who is married without children and lives in SeaTac, did not say whether he might run one day to be the King County Sheriff. Rahr was elected to a second, four-year term in 2009.

"It's too early to say that," Strachan said. "What the future holds, I don't know. I was asked to take on this role and my focus is to learn the lay of the land. I will be doing more listening than talking for a while."

Strachan served in elective offices before moving to Kent. He was elected in 2002 to the Minnesota State House of Representatives, where he served on the Judiciary Committee. He was elected in 1996 to the first of two terms as a Farmington, Minn., City Council member.

Since Strachan's move to Washington, he was appointed in 2007 by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority. He is the co-chair of the Washington Association of Sheriff's and Police Chiefs Corrections Committee. He is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, vice-chair of the King County Chiefs of Police Association, and is an active member of the Kent Rotary Club.

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