Ex-Redmond police chief dies in crash; called ‘visionary’ leader
Steve Harris, a former longtime Redmond police chief, was one of two people killed in a head-on collision Sunday night near Redmond.
Seattle Times staff reporter
During the 28 years that Steve Harris led the Redmond Police Department, the Eastside city was transformed from a sleepy suburb to the global headquarters of two of the world’s most well-known companies.
Mr. Harris is credited with leading the department in its own transition, at one point being named one of the top suburban law-enforcement agencies in the U.S. by a national publication.
When Mr. Harris retired in 2009, after 42 years of working as a police officer in Redmond, New Jersey and Colorado, he and his wife, Margaret, stayed in their Education Hill home, said Redmond Mayor John Marchione.
On Sunday night, Mr. Harris, 68, and his wife were driving west on Highway 202 near Redmond around 9 p.m. when their Ford Explorer was struck head-on by an eastbound Dodge Dakota pickup that veered into the westbound lanes, the State Patrol said. The pickup was driven by a 16-year-old boy.
Mr. Harris died at the scene. His wife remains in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
The 16-year-old boy also died at the scene, according to the State Patrol. He was not identified Monday.
Trooper Chris Webb said that after colliding with the Explorer, the pickup continued east in the westbound lanes of Highway 202 and struck a third vehicle before rolling over onto its side.
A woman driving the third vehicle suffered minor injuries and declined medical attention, Webb said.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
“It could be distracted driving, lack of sleep; we may never know,” Webb said.
Marchione, who lives about eight blocks from the Harrises, said Monday that everyone at City Hall was shocked by the death of the longtime police chief. Mr. Harris, even in his retirement, was a familiar face at officer retirement parties and law-enforcement conferences and as a customer of Redmond businesses.
”We pray for Chief Harris’ wife, who still has to recover from this horrible accident,” Marchione said.
During his 28 years as chief, Mr. Harris is credited with maintaining low crime rates in a rapidly growing city, creating public-private partnerships to reduce crime at major businesses, and working to form an emergency-services center where the police, fire and public-works departments share information in times of severe storms or emergencies.
“He was ahead of the curve always,” said Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “Redmond was the first, if not one of the first, accredited police agencies in the state.”
Barker called Mr. Harris a “visionary” so “oftentimes he would leave you scratching your head, wondering why he was doing things.”
“Then in a few years we’d all be doing it,” said Barker, who was the police chief in Gig Harbor when he met Mr. Harris in the late 1990s.
Barker said he has always been impressed with the professionalism of the Redmond Police Department, something he attributes to Mr. Harris.
“They respond to the community; they are open and transparent,” Barker said. “This is a huge loss.”
During Mr. Harris’ tenure in Redmond, Good Housekeeping magazine in 1996 named his department one of eight Best Suburban Agencies in the United States.
In 2006, the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission gave Mr. Harris the Community Partnership Award for fostering private- and public-sector partnerships. That same year, the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Society of Industrial Security presented Mr. Harris with the Leadership Award for excellence in police administration and management. Mr. Harris was the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police from 1992-1993.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said Mr. Harris worked closely with late Prosecutor Norm Maleng to reduce auto theft countywide.
Mr. Harris’ auto-theft-reduction task force involved police from King, Snohomish and Pierce counties sharing information. In 2005 in King County, there were 17,694 auto thefts; in 2008 there were 8,349.
Redmond Police Chief Ron Gibson, who was hired from Colorado Springs, Colo. after Mr. Harris retired, said the department is stunned by the loss.
“It’s a shock. You don’t see this coming. A number of the people who work here still associate with Chief Harris. We’re trying to reach out to those individuals and reach out to Chief Harris’ family,” Gibson said.
Gibson said he sent members of his command staff to Harborview Medical Center to support Mr. Harris’ severely injured wife and his family, which includes the couple’s two grown children.
Marchione remembers meeting Mr. Harris when he was growing up in Redmond. He said Mr. Harris worked for four mayors, including him and his mother, former Mayor Doreen Marchione, and got along well with all of them.
“He took a small police force and made it a professional organization,” Marchione said. He added that with Microsoft and Nintendo putting down roots in Redmond, “the city went from a very small town to an international city” during Mr. Harris’ leadership.
Beyond being a good leader and innovator, Mr. Harris was funny and easy to talk to, Marchione said.
“He was very gregarious. A very friendly, outgoing person. He loved to hunt. He was famous around City Hall for his hunting trips,” Marchione said. “He was the type of guy you could have a beer with.”
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which includes information from Times archives. Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @SeattleSullivan