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News / Northwest

Burien police have ‘no confidence’ in mayor after attempt to oust chief

By Lauren Girgis, The Seattle Times
Published: May 9, 2024, 7:38am

SEATTLE — As a prolonged legal and political fight between Burien city leaders and King County draws on, Burien police officers have threatened to leave the department if the city’s current police chief is removed.

The Burien city manager requested Police Chief Ted Boe be removed last month after the King County Sheriff’s Office halted its enforcement of the city’s anti-camping ordinance. The city manager, Adolfo Bailon, wrote to the King County sheriff that he could no longer trust Boe “to fulfill the requirements within the Interlocal Agreement,” the contract that governs King County Sheriff’s Office providing police services for Burien.

According to the interlocal agreement, the Sheriff’s Office entirely controls personnel status and discipline. Bailon’s efforts to oust Boe has led to outrage among Sheriff’s Office employees and some Burien community members.

The King County sheriff has filed a complaint in U.S. District Court to ask a judge to determine the camping ban’s constitutionality and determine whether the interlocal agreement requires the Sheriff’s Office to enforce it. In the meantime, Burien’s camping ban has gone unenforced. Burien’s ban includes “buffer zones” that prohibit people from camping in large swaths of the city day or night. It is one of the most restrictive in the state.

Burien, in turn, sued the county and Sheriff’s Office, claiming the office is violating the contract by not enforcing the ordinance.

In the letter from Burien police officers, which was first reported by the B-Town Blog, they say Boe’s removal will result “in the immediate transfer for request of countless years of experience from the city to more supportive organizations within our county.” The letter, signed by more than 20 officers, expresses a vote of no confidence in Bailon and Mayor Kevin Schilling.

There are currently 32 deputies and four sergeants contracted to the Burien Police Department, according to King County Sheriff’s Office, and the letter reflects a majority of the department.

A community letter of no confidence in the mayor and city manager expressing support of Boe subsequently began circulating. About 130 people signed on to the petition as of Wednesday afternoon. There are about 50,000 people living in Burien.

King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said Bailon’s effort to oust Boe from leadership last month was “retaliatory” because Boe provided sworn testimony in a lawsuit regarding the camping ordinance’s constitutionality. Bailon has claimed Boe was aware of Burien’s interest in replacing him before he made his sworn statement.

The petitions come after a year turmoil and debate within the small South King County city over what to do about the unsheltered homeless population. The camping ordinance, which creates several barriers to living outside, has incited controversy. The city is also being sued in King County Superior Court by homeless people and the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.

In a statement Wednesday, Schilling said the city is “focused on getting folks off the street.” He did not respond to a question about whether the city was still seeking Boe’s removal.

“For years we’ve heard from the police about the shortcomings of county service providers and the need to get drugs and public camping under control,” Schilling wrote. “Then, with a council that wants to do that in place, we’re now in this scenario where the Sheriff is not enforcing those laws.”

Bailon and the city of Burien sent a statement that said “Burien is very disappointed and concerned” by the officers’ letter, and reiterated that Burien’s concerns with Boe are not personal.

“Regarding two significant problems in Burien, homelessness and how criminal conduct is addressed in Burien, Burien wants a new or fresh approach to creating a safe and inviting community for residents, businesses, and guests to enjoy,” the statement read. “The City of Burien requests that the King County police officers, who do good work despite being understaffed, continue their duties.”

During a community meeting on Monday evening with Cole-Tindall and Boe — which was intermittently interrupted by rowdy commentary from the audience — they said the decision not to enforce the ordinance came down to the question of legal authority rather than political maneuvering.

“Right now, I think there is a very strong connection between people’s discomfort around the unhoused people in the downtown core and their perception of the crime rate in Burien,” Boe said, defending the city’s crime rate as on par with other Seattle suburbs.

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Boe did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

Boe has served as Burien’s chief since 2018. In November 2022, he declined to take a promotion as the King County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Operations Division Chief.

At the time, Bailon said: “Chief Boe has cultivated tremendous success in leading his team, and we look forward to his continued success for many years to come.”

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