The city’s new police chief finished a day of celebration and ceremony in the Central District Tuesday as the Seattle Police Department’s first Black leader was sworn-in at the Northwest African American Museum.
“We can not think that the work and the sacrifice of those who came before us is something just for the history books or the museums,” Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said addressing the crowd of officials, supporters, and family before the ceremony with Seattle Municipal Court Judge, the Honorable Anita Crawford-Willis. “We are still writing history today.”
The Central District ceremony was the third and final stop of the day on a citywide tour Tuesday that echoed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s five-stop swearing-in day last year.
At the S Massachusetts St. museum, Best repeated many of the themes of “community oriented” policing and “Constitutional police services” she has spoken to throughout the selection and confirmation process. But she also made it clear she believes police have sometimes been “on the wrong side of history.”
“Let me be clear, policing has changed, society has changed,” Best said. “But if we pretend that these issues do not echo through the consciousness of us all, we are doing a disservice to those who sacrificed to make these changes.” Best said the path forward was to honor the past “by doing the hard work.”
In her remarks, Mayor Durkan said Seattle has the right woman for the job. “There is no one who loves this city more, who loves her department more, who loves the community more, and who works harder than this woman, Carmen Best,” Durkan said.
Chief Best now 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.
Initially left off the mayor’s list of finalists, Best was put back into consideration after community groups and members of the Community Police Commission 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 and 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.”
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.
Best had served as interim chief following O’Toole’s exit.
Chief Best now fully inherits a department that has seemingly come through some of the biggest challenges following the DOJ intervention but not all is settled.
There are immediate issues like street crime and gun violence — including in the Central District where a spate of shootings has rattled neighbors. Meanwhile, 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.
“We have persevered under intense scrutiny setting national standards for modern day policing,” Best said Tuesday, acknowledging some of the pain the department has felt under ongoing federal scrutiny. “We’re a shining example to other departments. But this — this is only the beginning. We are going to keep raising the bar.”
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