Photo courtesy of Mitzi Johanknecht for King County Sheriff | Mitzi Johanknecht with supporters at a recent Seattle Seafair parade.

Photo courtesy of Mitzi Johanknecht for King County Sheriff | Mitzi Johanknecht with supporters at a recent Seattle Seafair parade.

Meet Mitzi: Bainbridge grad to take the reins as new KingCo sheriff

Meet the new boss.

Quite a change from the old boss.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart conceded earlier this week to challenger — and Bainbridge High School grad — Mitzi Johanknecht, who led 56 percent to 44 percent (or by more than 62,000 votes) as the latest results from the Nov. 7 Election were released Monday.

“There will be a ‘new sheriff in town,’” Urquhart said in a letter to supporters, “and I wish her the best of luck.”

According to Seattle news outlets, Urquhart had been with the King County Sheriff’s Office for almost 30 years. He became sheriff after winning a special election for the open seat in 2012. He then faced no challengers in the General Election in 2013.

First run

Johanknecht is also a longtime law enforcement veteran, though a newcomer to the world of politics.

She had never even considered running for office, Johanknecht told the Review this week, but eventually decided to throw her hat in the ring earlier this year after talking with colleagues about shared concerns. She now serves as the major in charge of the Southwest Precinct in Burien, pending officially assuming the position of sheriff early next year.

“It’s kind of a shift [now] from campaign mode to transition mode, to getting things in place for the first of the year,” she said.

“Certainly, our focus is working on those things we talked about on the campaign that were important for us to get done, whether it’s to make sure we have really good training for our members of the sheriff’s office in dealing with people in crisis, deescalation training, and then outfitting them with better tools that can help them do their work everyday.”

Johanknecht lived on Bainbridge for only two years, graduating as one of the 177 Spartans in the Class of ’77. But her time on the island, and as a student at BHS, left an indelible impression.

“My time on Bainbridge Island was wonderful,” she said. “I’m so grateful to all the people there, and that I’d met in my school days, that got on Facebook and supported the campaign. I’m just humbled by this experience and the opportunity to serve in a different way. It’s a big honor.”

Sadly, the rigors of campaigning kept her from her recent class reunion.

“Through the campaign, and through Facebook and other things, I’ve gotten back in touch with a lot of friends I went to high school with,” she said. “It’s been a really cool experience.”

Island time

Johanknecht and her family moved to Bainbridge as she entered her junior year of high school.

“My parents were building their home on the island, so I moved over for my junior and senior year,” she said. “It was really great because everybody there was so welcoming and kind, and I was meeting new people. I think kind of being involved in athletics gets you an opportunity to know people sooner.

“I developed a lot of friends.”

Johanknecht played volleyball and basketball for BHS, and though her folks eventually relocated to warmer climes — Arizona, to be precise — she never strayed far from home herself. For the past 32 years Johanknecht worked in a variety of capacities in the world of Northwest law enforcement, including in the Major Crimes Division, SWAT and in the Sammamish office.

Recalling her time on Bainbridge, Johanknecht said she did try her hand at one other sport, as well. Her father was an avid golfer and a member at Meadowmeer Golf & Country Club, she said, where she often enjoyed playing with him.

Though some teens might consider such an abrupt change as a move from the bustling Seattle side of the Sound to Bainbridge Island a tragedy, Johanknecht said the experience ultimately benefited her in many ways.

“I do think that learning how to meet new friends and develop relationships are critical,” she said. “It’s certainly been that, plus learning, I would say, how to do good teamwork through all the athletics I played in my life, has continued to be a significant part of success in my almost 33 years of law enforcement.”

Creating bonds

Johanknecht’s sense of teamwork carried over to her policy proposals, which obviously spoke to voters.

She espoused the need for improved community relations, outlined a plan to form a new section of the sheriff’s office to do the work of outreach and better maintain transparency, and also championed the need for community advisory councils, thus having the residents, she said, “helping us reimagine law enforcement.”

“What came back for me was the stuff I learned early in my career, which was it’s so crucial to be in contact with the community, establish authentic relationships based on trust, treating people with dignity and respect,” she said. “The worry was around, ‘Do we have the skill set to get into the political arena?’”

Returned ballots answered with a resounding “yes.”

It’s a tumultuous time in the world of law enforcement. Many cops she knew saw the state of things today and opted out, Johanknecht said, retiring, pursuing other occupations. Seeing that, she felt all the more compelled to step up.

“For me, and for my colleagues that really supported and worked hard on this campaign, it was about staying here and being proud of law enforcement and the ability to work with the community to be informed and make law enforcement new and better into the future,” she said.

To the BHS students of today, the accomplished alumna advised perspective.

“You can be so much more than you think you are in that moment, in that time of your youth and young adulthood,” she said. “The things that you’re thinking about then, and that are your priorities then, will change and grow as you get older and you get wiser. You kind of rethink, ‘What’s my duty?’ And my duty was to serve. It became this adventure into running for office.

“[Don’t] be held in that single time in high school, but prepare to take your opportunities as they come and grow and experience as much as you can.”

Photo courtesy of Mitzi Johanknecht for King County Sheriff | Incoming King County Sheriff, and 1977 Bainbridge High School grad, Mitzi Johanknecht.

Photo courtesy of Mitzi Johanknecht for King County Sheriff | Incoming King County Sheriff, and 1977 Bainbridge High School grad, Mitzi Johanknecht.

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