Steve Strachan’s work during his 4 1/2 years as Kent Police chief came into perspective for him one morning last week, when he read a department e-mail about a prior day’s arrest.
“Two patrol officers doing diligent work put a gang member pimping juvenile girls into jail,” Strachan recalled, during a Dec. 17 interview at his office. “The (three-month long) case started because two patrol officers got information and ran with it.”
It’s the type of arrest Strachan likes to see: people across the department working in unison to solve a crime and get a criminal off the street.
“That makes me proud to be part of this profession,” Strachan said. “It makes me feel that this matters and this is what it’s all about at the end of the day. It’s about ‘how do I build confidence so officers can do their job?’ When I looked at the e-mail this morning, it made me really proud.”
Kent’s chief soon will be challenging himself to help other law officers do their jobs.
Strachan, 45, leaves Kent Jan. 3 to start his new job Jan. 4 as chief deputy with the King County Sheriff’s Office. He accepted an offer in September from King County Sheriff Sue Rahr. Instead of his tidy office in Kent City Hall, he’ll be doing his job from an office at the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle.
Rahr cut two command-staff positions in June, and slated two more for elimination in 2011. As a result, Strachan will oversee much of the work that was managed by those commanders. 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.
That’s a major step up for Strachan. He oversees nearly 200 Kent Police employees, including about 145 officers, protecting a city of 114,000.
“My intention was to be here a long time,” said Strachan, who came in 2006 to Kent after working as police chief in Lakeville, Minn. “I was not looking for something else. The fact that the sheriff came to me in Kent is a reflection of the reputation of this police department.”
It’s a reputation that Strachan said he simply tried to enhance.
“It was a good department before I got here and I hope I added a little bit,” Strachan said. “My goal was to leave it a little better than I found it and hopefully, I have.”
Jeff Cobb, president of the Kent Police Officers Association union for the last four years and a Kent Police officer for 17 years, said Strachan reached that goal.
“He’s done an outstanding job,” Cobb said in a phone interview. “One thing that he has brought to this department is an atmosphere of where we can work together rather than against each other to solve problems.”
Cobb said he appreciated Strachan’s ability to work with the union.
“He was open and honest and let us know what he planned on doing,” Cobb said. “He also would take suggestions. He didn’t have to, since he was the boss, but he chose to.”
Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke also gave Strachan high marks.
“He managed a professional team of officers and staff in a manner to challenge them to improve their system of effectiveness so that it was an environment to work to help solve problems,” Cooke said in a phone interview. “He is a problem solver.”
A major goal of Strachan, during his years in Kent, was to get his department focused on reducing crime rather than simply reacting to crimes. One step he took toward that end was to hire a crime analyst to help spot trends of when and where crimes occurred.
“The idea is to use the data to identify offenders who have the most impact in the city and to focus on the worst of the worst offenders,” Strachan said. “In my 24 years of law enforcement that is one of the better trends is to get ahead of the curve and get away from being reactive. It helps create an environment of ownership and accountability.”
Cooke pointed to the creation of Neighborhood Response Teams in the Valley, the East Hill and the West Hill as good steps where officers could work with residents, business owners and apartment managers in specific neighborhoods to solve crimes.
“The big thing with the chief was his ability to communicate with the City Council, other departments and the public,” Cooke said. “He wrote the column in the paper (the Kent Reporter) and he would reach out to the immigrant and faith populations. He was in synch with my mission to reach out to the community.”
Strachan also has had to hire a lot of officers over the last five years to replace retired officers and expand staff.
“That has given us an opportunity to develop an outstanding command staff and to hire good young officers to take this department to an even higher level,” he noted.
Cobb said the police department for many years lacked adequate staffing.
“He (Strachan) helped inform the City Council about what the department needed,” Cobb said. “We had always been understaffed since I started here and he worked hard to get that corrected so we can provide the services that are needed.”
Strachan, who is married and lives in SeaTac, will stay active in Kent. His new job will involve collaborating with all of the cities in King County. He will continue to serve on the Kent Youth and Family Services board to help oversee the agency that provides professional counseling, education and support services to children, youth and their families. He also will become president of the Rotary Club of Kent starting in July.
“I’m still very connected to Kent,” Strachan said. “That’s not going to change.”
But he no longer will run the Kent Police.
“We’ll miss the guy,” Cobb said. “He’s leaving big shoes to fill.”