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Chief O’Toole cleans house, promotes and recruits new Seattle Police brass

O'Toole at Wednesday's announcement

O’Toole at Wednesday’s announcement

The rate of change is apparently picking up at the Seattle Police Department. In the job for just under one year, herself, Chief Kathleen O’Toole has reinvented her command staff this week with a mix of internal promotions and external recruits. O’Toole’s new set of assistant chiefs were introduced at a media conference Wednesday morning:

Assistant Chiefs Lesley Cordner, Steve Wilske, Robert Merner, Perry Tarrant, and Chief Information Officer Greg Russell will join me in leading this department. They have each proven themselves to be innovators, who share my drive for progress and passion for public service.

Lesley Cordner joined the Seattle Police Department in 1989, and has served in the Domestic Violence Unit, North Precinct Operations, Community Policing, and a number of other assignments. Lesley emigrated from Ireland to the greater Seattle area, and previously worked for the Boeing Company and Seattle City Light as a mechanical engineer before joining the department.

Steve Wilske, currently the commander of the Southwest Precinct, has served for more than 28 years with the department in a variety of roles, including Homicide and Crime Scene and Use of Force investigation. At Southwest, Steve brought his CSI background to bear, as he pushed the importance of scouring every single crime scene for fingerprints.

I was looking for a commander who could plunge right into leading the patrol operations section, so it seems fitting that Steve has a degree in commercial diving.

Two chiefs are also joining our department after life-long careers in public safety service in other parts of the country.

Robert Merner, comes to us after holding every rank in the Boston Police Department’s Investigative Bureau, with experience in homicide, gangs, narcotics and forensics.

Robert has worked closely with a Boston Bar Association Taskforce dedicated to preventing wrongful convictions, and is a four-time recipient of the Boston Police Department’s Medal of Honor.

Perry Tarrant joins us after serving as the coordinator of the City of Yakima’s Gang Free Initiative.

Perry has served for 34 years as an officer and commander in the Tucson Police Department, and he is also the Vice President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

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At the Wednesday morning conference, Mayor Ed Murray announced that a police union legal challenge seeking to block the hiring of assistant chiefs from outside SPD had been dropped.

In an October sample, East Precinct saw a 25% spike in callouts on Fridays as Pike/Pine's streets swell with nightlife revelers. Meanwhile, 911 response times show the precinct's beat officers are keeping up with the demand -- mostly

In an October sample, East Precinct saw a 25% spike in callouts on Fridays as Pike/Pine’s streets swell with nightlife revelers. Meanwhile, 911 response times show the precinct’s beat officers are keeping up with the demand — mostly. KIRO looked at citywide response time trends here.

The new leadership won’t bring any immediate changes to East Precinct command. Capt. Pierre Davis took over the precinct patrolling Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the Central District in early 2014.

Overall, crime climbed in the precinct in 2014 matching citywide trends.

The precinct shifted its borders earlier this year to better patrol growing areas like Pike/Pine and the Central District. Meanwhile, concerns about a slowdown in policing across the city with officers reportedly choosing to ignore lesser street crimes have also been voiced in the precinct. Increased staffing is hoped to be part of the solution — the mayor pledged millions in the latest city budget to hire new officers and improve technology to enable more efficient policing. The department’s SeaStat crime analysis program is being held up as one early example of early progress while a trial of new body camera technologies is being tested on our streets in the East Precinct. Other areas like anti-LGBTQ violence, will need more effort.

SPD has also added a new civilian leader with the hiring of former Amazon vice president Greg Russell as the department’s new chief information officer.

The Seattle Times has more on the assistant chiefs pushed aside by the promotions and new hires as the chief looks to accelerate and cement her efforts to change the department.

The new assistant chiefs Merner, Wilske, and Tarrant will report to deputy chief Carmen Best and assistant chief Cordner and CIO Russell will report to chief operating officer Mike Wagers, according to the announcement. With concerns about the department’s issues around biased policing, Tarrant joins Best as the only black members of O’Toole’s new leadership team.

In East, Davis and his senior commanders have also faced scrutiny for their handling of the discipline of officer Cynthia Whitlatch for her actions in arresting William Wingate, a black, 70-year-old veteran walking with a golf club through Pike/Pine in July 2014. The department later apologized for the arrest and took Whitlatch off patrol as the Office of Professional Accountability undertakes an investigation of the incident.

While the Whitlatch incident has spawned the accountability investigation and a new social media policy, the new direction in SPD leadership announced by O’Toole Wednesday is likely to have a much larger impact on moving the department beyond its recent troubles that saw Seattle slapped with a Department of Justice consent decree over its police department’s use of force and biased policing. Hopefully, now the department can move forward on real changes to, as new assistant chief Cordner put it, “get through and beyond the consent decree.”

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