Carmen Best has served Seattle citizens on the sometimes-dangerous streets of the city for 26 years. Now she has successfully navigated the equally sometimes-times dangerous pathways at City Hall to win confirmation as the Chief of Police in Seattle, the 22nd most populous city in the nation.
“As the new police Chief, I’ll continue to lead our department through a culture of continuous improvement and innovation,” Best said in a statement released Monday following her official swearing-in:
Just nine months ago, the Seattle Police Department was found to be in full and effective compliance with the consent decree by the federal court. Make no mistake this was in large part due to the efforts of the men and women of SPD who work every day, under intense scrutiny, to serve and protect this City. Our officers are on the front lines of poverty, of mental health crisis, of homelessness, and all the tragedy and unpredictability inherent in the profession of policing, while simultaneously, working to build relationships with the communities they serve. As we enter the next phase of the consent decree, we all look forward to continued progress and evolution at the Seattle Police Department. I know great things are ahead.
A public ceremony will also be held on Tuesday, August 21st at City Hall and again in the Central District at the Northwest African American Museum.
Best’s selection by Mayor Jenny Durkan and approval by the Seattle City Council was greatly driven by her Central District support. Community groups and members of Durkan’s Community Police Commission had spoken out on their support for Best even as she was first left off the finalist list and called on the mayor to restart the selection process to include Best, the first Black woman to lead the department. and a career law enforcement officer who has risen through the ranks at SPD with wide support in Black communities.
In a confirmation process that began in July, Best said that her vision for the department centered around three things: having every officer engage with the community, holding people accountable, and being innovative in using the best business practices to ensure that the SPD budget is being used most effectively. She said that the biggest challenge for the department is getting more officers hired. She explained that without a labor contract in place for the past four years, the department is not competitive in terms of pay and thus is not getting as many people in the door. She noted that SPD competes not only with other police departments, but with Starbucks and Amazon for hires. “We’re all fighting for that same pool of folks.” The City Council’s questions for the candidate include items down to the nitty gritty of her position on events like Capitol Hill Block Party paying only 13% of policing costs and safety work related to the event.
After only three years on the job, Ed Murray-selected Kathleen O’Toole stepped down from her post as Seattle’s police chief when Durkan took office late last year. The mayor 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.
Chief Best now inherits 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.
Best’s confirmation also gives Seattle two African American leaders for its first responders joining Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins who was confirmed to his post in spring of 2015.
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