When opportunity knocks, said Mitzi Johanknecht, sometimes a person has to go outside her comfort zone to develop, even go places she never thought she’d go.
One of those places, the King County native recalled, was the city of Auburn during the 2017 general election campaign, where she came to gather support for her effort to beat incumbent Sheriff John Urquhart.
On Tuesday, Johanknecht found herself in unexpected Auburn again, this time as King County’s newly-minted sheriff, addressing the Noon Lions Club in the banquet room at the Auburn Golf Course.
“My lifelong goal was law enforcement, but what I learned over the past year is that your goals can change. …That job really connected me with what’s important in life, which is children, school, future generations and doing all we can to support them in their growth, and supporting them to become the human beings they deserve to become,” Johanknecht said.
Johanknecht began her career in law enforcement in January 1985 as a north precinct deputy with the King County Sheriff’s Office, part of a multi-disciplinary team assigned to King County Public Housing.
Hard work and dedication gained her the opportunity to rise up the ranks. Within 10 years she was promoted to sergeant, four years later to captain and finally to commander of the Burien precinct, the position she held before her election.
“I’ve worked in the south, and I’ve worked in the south, and I’ve worked in downtown Seattle, but the thrill of a lifetime was getting an opportunity to run for office; it was quite the adventure. I got to work two jobs during the course of about nine months,” Johanknecht said.
Johanknecht said she looks forward to opportunities to change law enforcement for the better in the future. One of her priorities is to craft a strategic plan, which, she said, the sheriff’s office has not had for many years. She intends to get communities involved in structuring that plan.
“I get to draw on the experience of people like … (Auburn Police) Chief Bob Lee, when we have issues we can work on together, to build those partnerships and become really good partners, not only in law enforcement but in community service,” said Johanknecht. “Everybody wearing blue, or tan or green, we all have hearts of being a servant … The work that we do is about serving others, putting others before ourselves. Often times it is difficult for a deputy or an officer on the street because, typically, they don’t talk about themselves; they work quietly behind the scenes. Remember that 99 percent of the time we’re there because people are in crisis.
“I think it’s important that everyone knows that’s where we come from, that we want to do good public safety work for you, and we want to be the best that we can be, so that we do the right thing for you every day. And sometimes that’s doing the hard thing. And having your support and your commitment, not only to holding us accountable but being there when we need you. Those are really critical things that make us better at what we do,” Johanknecht said.