Tanksley announces bid for Whatcom County sheriff


Blaine police chief Donnell Tanksley is running for Whatcom County sheriff.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) position is up for election next November. Sheriff Bill Elfo is currently serving his fourth consecutive four-year term. He was appointed interim sheriff in late 2002 to replace former state senator Dale Brandland. Elfo served as Blaine police chief prior to being elected sheriff. Elfo did not respond to The Northern Light’s requests for comment.

Tanksley said he considered running for sheriff after people in the community asked whether he ever thought about running. He said he loves Blaine and its residents, but thought it would be a great opportunity to serve more people.

“I evaluated that, my appreciation for our community and what I believe I could do for the community, together with the community and with the great men and women of WCSO,” Tanksley said.  

Tanksley has created a website and Facebook page, both named “Tank for Sheriff,” for his campaign. The city of Blaine hired Tanksley as police chief in May 2019, and he was sworn in that June.

Over the past three years, Tanksley has implemented data-driven traffic enforcement, suspended use of vascular neck restraints following the death of George Floyd, upgraded department vehicles, implemented a state-required body-worn camera program, restaffed the department and pushed for development of a new police station.

Tanksley served in the U.S. military for 21 years. He worked for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in Missouri from 1993 to 2014, the last seven of which he served as commander. He moved to Bellingham to become assistant chief of police for Western Washington University for three years and then chief of police at Portland State University in Oregon from 2017 until joining Blaine. 

As sheriff, Tanksley said some of his top priorities would be reducing and preventing crime through a proactive community-focused approach and breaking the cycle of incarceration and recidivism, or repeat offenders. He would also like to prioritize engaging with WCSO staff and other county departments as well as behavioral and mental health care. He said he would like to work against biases that intertwine homelessness with criminal behavior.

Tanksley highlighted the need for a new jail facility that has the capacity to provide services for those incarcerated. He said the current facility does not have necessary services to reduce incarceration and recidivism, as well as providing continuous services to people after they are released.

“I don’t believe we should be looking at how to make inmates better,” he said. “I think we should be looking at how to make people better, so that’s the goal.” 

Tanksley is also a member of Whatcom County’s Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, which reviews the county’s criminal justice and behavioral health programs, as a small city police chief.

When asked why he believes he is fit for the job, Tanksley cites his well-rounded experience and mentality for caring for people. He said it’s important to approach people without judgment and believe that everyone deserves a chance and are capable of being productive in society.

“I think it’s incumbent upon the sheriff of a county to acknowledge that everyone’s valued,” Tanksley said. “Although, we also need to hold people accountable.”

In an interview with The Northern Light in June, celebrating three years with BPD, Tanksley said his biggest accomplishment while at the department is having completed 90 percent of BPD’s Loaned Executive Management Assistance Program (LEMAP) recommendations. LEMAP examines department policies, procedures, how it conducts business and provides a series of recommendations. 

Tanksley has associate’s degrees in human resource management, education and training management and criminal justice, a bachelor’s degree in management from National Louis University and a master’s degree in management from Fontbonne University.


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