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Murray picks O’Toole as police chief to reshape SPD

Murray and O'Toole Monday morning via the Seattle Channel

Murray and O’Toole Monday morning via the Seattle Channel

O'Toole (Image: Boston College)

O’Toole (Image: Boston College)

Seattle has its chief to lead an embattled police department into what city leaders hope is a new era of public safety — and public trust.

Mayor Ed Murray ticked off another of his first term goals Monday morning when he named Boston’s police commissioner from 2004 to 2006 and veteran of the Boston Police Department Kathleen O’Toole as his candidate to become the new Seattle Chief of Police. O’Toole, 60, is poised to become the first female to lead Seattle’s police force.

Murray called O’Toole “the best candidate to move this department forward and to move public safety forward.”

“I promise the community that I’ll work tirelessly on behalf of this city,” O’Toole said.

The Massachusetts-born candidate for police chief also called the Seattle selection process “very robust.”

“This isn’t a stepping stone for me,” O’Toole said later in the announcement’s press conference.

Murray said he will ask that O’Toole receive a $254,000 annual salary.

Murray said he considers O’Toole a “talker” willing to share information and discuss issues. The mayor said he has found SPD’s opaqueness his “biggest frustration” since being elected.

Murray’s choice to lead the department must still be approved by the Seattle City Council but is unlikely that body will stand in the way of finally moving forward on real, substantive change at SPD. The council is expected to finalize the appointment by the end of June.

Once approved, O’Toole will arrive with a mandate for change and with some unique opportunities in the annals of Seattle policing. For the first time, the SPD chief will be allowed to bring in brass from outside the department. Following increased criticism of the department’s use of force and recent dismissals in officer discipline cases, O’Toole will also find a City Hall and populace sympathetic to her cause in reforming a department entangled in a powerful union. One of the first political battles O’Toole will need to rise above will be the renewal of the city’s contract with the powerful Seattle Police Officer Guild.

SPD’s recent history has been marked by continued tumult following a Justice Department consent decree that “many in this city would never happen,” Murray said Monday. An eight-month DOJ investigation of Seattle policing released in winter 2011 revealed troubling findings about the department’s use of force. Justice filed a consent decree and negotiated a plan with SPD to overhaul the department.

SPD’s continued overhaul includes a new DOJ-approved use of force policy that lists guidelines for all department weaponry and requires all officers to carry at least one non-lethal weapon at all times. The policy also requires nearly all uses of force to be reported and the most serious uses of force to be investigated by a special team. The new policy took effect on January 1st.

Meanwhile, statistics in a report to the new Community Police Commission show a major shift in policing activity in the city over the past decade as officers handled fewer and fewer low-level crimes. The numbers also showed disproportionate enforcement against minorities for many minor crimes.

For Capitol Hill and East Precinct, one element of O’Toole’s resume might be noteworthy regarding public safety, crowd control and police discipline. In 2005, O’Toole demoted a police superintendent who was in command the night a 21-year-old journalist was killed after being hit by a crowd-control projectile as large crowds celebrated the 2004 Red Sox World Series victory. O’Toole was Boston’s police commissioner at the time.

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