Chief Best not among finalists to lead Seattle Police

With reporting from SCC Insight

Mayor Jenny Durkan has revealed the slate of three candidates to become Seattle’s next police chief but the woman leading the department since the start of the year — and, some say, much longer than that as she covered for the previous chief’s extensive travel schedule — isn’t one of them.

The Police Search Committee’s selections reflect candidates who must be “committed to public safety while continuing to build an accountable, diverse police department focused on meaningful and lasting reforms,” Durkan said Friday.

The three men selected all come from outside the Seattle Police Department power structure and none are currently working as chief of police in their respective cities:

  • Eddie Frizell, Inspector, Minneapolis Police Department. Eddie Frizell is an Inspector with the Minneapolis Police Department, which he has served for 25 years. Inspector Frizell also holds the rank of Colonel in the Minnesota Army National Guard, which he served for 28 years, including a deployment to Iraq.
  • Cameron S. McLay, Former Chief of Police, City of Pittsburgh. Cameron S. McLay is the former Chief of Police for the City of Pittsburgh. Prior to his service to Pittsburgh, Chief McLay spent 29 years at the City of Madison Police Department.
  • Ely Reyes, Assistant Chief, Austin Police Department. Ely Reyes is an Assistant Chief with the Austin Police Department, which he has served for 22 years. He also served in the United States Army and performed six years of overseas service. He is a recipient of the Purple Heart, Lifesaving Medal, and three Meritorious Service Medals.

Community advocates in the Central District and many following the process were surprised Friday to see interim SPD Chief Carmen Best left off the list. Best, the first Black woman to lead the department, has risen through the ranks at SPD and had wide support in communities like the Central District where SPD still has the most ground to cover in addressing issues of biased policing and use of force in the city.

The 25-member Police Search Committee included many with “extensive experience in criminal justice reform,” the mayor said in her announcement. The group “collaborated with a national search firm to attract many qualified applicants from across the country.”

Best was among the five finalists put forth by the full committee — the fifth name was Jorge Villegas, Assistant Chief for the Los Angeles Police Department.

In addition to the Search Committee, the Mayor appointed an “examination committee” to conduct the competitive examination and narrow the list to three candidates. That committee consisted of former King County Executive Ron Sims, and four of the mayor’s own staff. According to co-chair Tim Burgess, the Search Committee co-chairs delivered to the Mayor and the examination committee the five names on Tuesday morning, and the examination committee members administered the “competitive examination” this week in a private process outside the purview of the search committee or the public.

But in the Tuesday meeting where the Search Committee recommendations were delivered, the Mayor and examination committee received an additional set of recommendations and findings written by just the four co-chairs, based upon their own interviews, research and deliberations. Among their recommendations was a key — and unanimous — one: according to Burgess, they said,” We think the Police Department needs another outside Chief of Police.”

In a Friday press conference, Burgess explained their rationale for that recommendation: that there is culture change still needed within the department that would best be driven by an outsider. “While the department has made tremendous progress, there is still much work to do.”

After three years on the job, Ed Murray-selected Kathleen O’Toole stepped down from her post as Seattle’s police chief as Durkan took office last year. Durkan credited O’Toole with helping to guide SPD reform following the Justice Department consent decree that came out of an eight-month DOJ investigation of Seattle policing released in winter 2011 that revealed troubling findings about the department’s use of force. SPD’s overhaul included a DOJ-approved use of force policy.

Friday, Search Committee member and Community Police Commission co-chair Enrique Gonzalez joined with another CPC co-chair, Rev. Harriett Walden, to denounce both the outcome and the process of selecting the finalists. They defended Best as fully qualified, arguing that she had done the job as acting Chief while O’Toole traveled extensively during her term, and that she has been doing a credible job since taking over in January as Interim Chief.

UPDATE 5/29/18: A group representing community organizations from across the city will hold an afternoon press conference at Seattle City Hall to call on the mayor “to restart the selection process to adhere to the standards of transparency, accountability, justice and equity, and equal employment opportunity principles” —

Seattle community leaders will formally call on Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle City Council to set aside the current selection process for the Seattle Chief of Police position. Community advocates will detail their concerns, which center on a lack of transparency and fairness, and a willful disregard for community interests and perspectives, in the identification of three finalists and the exclusion of the only woman semi-finalist and the only candidate with knowledge of Seattle communities. A formal request will be made to the mayor to restart the selection process to adhere to the standards of transparency, accountability, justice and equity, and equal employment opportunity principles, and to the Council to not confirm any candidate until a fair process is completed.

Meanwhile, the powerful police union has also decried the process:

In a statement released Friday night, interim Chief Best struck a diplomatic tone. “There is no greater honor than to have served as the Chief of the Seattle Police Department, in a city and department that I love,” Best writes. “I want to thank the Mayor for the opportunity and have agreed to her request that I continue as Interim Chief until a new Chief is confirmed. I wish the candidates the best – each of them should know how fortunate they will be to lead officers who have a commitment to public safety and reform.”

“We will continue to work to meet our community’s expectations, while leading the way as one of the best departments in the country, with Service, Pride and Dedication,” she concludes.

The new chief will inherit a department that has seemingly come through some of the biggest challenges following the DOJ intervention but not all is settled. One of the largest issues shadowing O’Toole’s leadership remains in the ongoing battle to hammer out a renewal of the city’s contract with the powerful Seattle Police Officer Guild.


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3 thoughts on “Chief Best not among finalists to lead Seattle Police

  1. I’ve been in meetings where she attended and have seen some of her work in the community over the past several years. She is amazing and inspiring. Unbelievable she was not placed on the final candidate list. She gets a lot of respect from the community and is a no nonsense cop.

  2. I’m disappointed to not see interim SPD Chief Best in the final list of 3 and feel like the city owes more of an explanation. If the reason truly is wanting someone from out of the area then why wasn’t that made clear from the start? And why wouldn’t it be preferable to have someone local? Isn’t there evidence that local policing is more effective? If Ms. Best prefers the reasons not be made public then let the City tell us that, I will gladly respect her privacy. At present it looks like a perfectly capable person, who paid their dues and worked their way up for 26 years, was passed over.

    • Totally agree. I wish she were one of the three finalists. She’s a) very good at what she does and b) more than qualified. Also, I’d like to see a woman of color in that role, or at least receiving due consideration.

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