Whether or not Kent should hire more police officers drew a range of responses from two City Council incumbents and the candidates challenging them.
Hire more, bring on specialists and end the corruption were among the responses at a Candidates Forum hosted by the Kent Chamber of Commerce July 1 at the Alki Bakery Cafe
The council race among incumbent Brenda Fincher and challengers Brad Cairnes and Larry Hussey is on the Aug. 3 primary election ballot because it has more than two candidates. The two with the most votes will advance to the Nov. 2 general election. King County Elections will mail primary ballots July 14.
Voters will choose between incumbent Toni Troutner and challenger Cliff Cawthon on the Nov. 2 ballot. Councilmember Satwinder Kaur is running unopposed for a second term.
“When the criminals are the police, there’s a problem,” said Cairnes, who works as a magician. “Folks, there is something going on in our police department not just in Kent but in this region that you don’t know about. There are officers acting outside their oath of their office.
“If they are using their position for personal gain, it doesn’t matter how many cops you got. The only reason I jumped in this race is because I didn’t see anybody talking about or addressing that issue. If you honor me with your vote, I will handle that situation.”
Cairnes didn’t mention any specific violations by officers. Cairnes is the son of Jack Cairnes, a Kent Republican who represented House District 47 in Olympia for 10 years until Pat Sullivan defeated him in 2004.
Fincher, who has won two elections since she was appointed by the council in 2014 to replace Ken Sharp, said the police department needs more specialists to respond to calls.
“It depends on what the police are going to be doing as to whether they need to hire more,” Fincher said. “I would like to see a domestic violence specialist. We need more, but we also need other services to help make sure they can do the job they need to do. We need to have the correct people there and reassigning some of those tasks, so we have them to show up when there is a break in (at a business).”
The question asked to candidates in addition to hiring more officers or not was how to keep a local business owner in town who said he wants to leave because of the high crime rate.
Fincher said the duties of officers need to be addressed.
“I don’t think of it as defunding. …it’s making sure they have the tools to do the job, and some of those tools are other people or other tactics.”
Hussey did not attend the forum. He provided a short statement to the chamber to read at the forum.
“I am currently boycotting the COVID-19 vaccination until the joints for jabs program has ended,” Hussey said. “It allows 18 year olds to get a free vaccination and a free marijuana product. I am not even a parent and that scares me.”
Hussey then asked the business community for their vote.
Troutner vs. Cawthon
Troutner, the current council president, is seeking a second four-year term.
“Absolutely, 100% I support hiring more police,” Troutner said.
Troutner said she supported the 2018 measure that would have hiked utility taxes (electric, natural gas, cable, phone) to 8% from 6% to pay for about 23 more officers by bringing in about $4.5 million per year. Voters rejected that measure by 57 to 43 percent.
She said if that measure were on the ballot again, she would support it. Mayor Dana Ralph considered a few times to bring the measure back for a council vote to send to voters, but then changed her mind.
Police Chief Rafael Padilla has said he would like to increase the number of officers to about 195 from the current 165.
“A lot of crime is happening because of prosecution not doing anything about it,” Troutner said. “We need to hold these criminals accountable and we need to make sure they are not out there committing these crimes over and over again and that our businesses feel safe.”
Cawthon, a Bellevue College political science professor, said the police department needs more specialists to address domestic violence and mental health incidents.
“We need specialists to get homeless folks to services they need,” Cawthon said. “Nonprofit folks are looking for more support that the city doesn’t provide and they go to the county. We need to invest in more specialists.”
Cawthon said looking at the duties of officers and specialists could help reduce crime at businesses and keep owners in town.
“We don’t just need outreach, we need to figure out what’s happening,” he said. “When homeless walk on your street is one thing, breaking into that business is another.”
He prefers having specialists rather than officers to respond to certain incidents.
“If we have police officers who are acting as case managers to address homelessness versus responding to that break in, I think we mix the priorities there so we need to right size our law enforcement agency,” Cawthon said.