Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole is part of a consulting group seeking a multimillion-dollar contract to monitor police reforms in Baltimore. She calls mayoral candidate Mike McGinn’s criticism “ridiculous.”
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole is taking political heat for joining a consulting group pursuing a multimillion-dollar contract to oversee police reforms in Baltimore.
O’Toole’s participation in the group — one of six finalists for the work, according to The Baltimore Sun — was blasted Thursday by mayoral candidate and former Mayor Mike McGinn.
McGinn questioned O’Toole’s commitment to her job, saying Seattle “needs a full-time chief” to respond to public-safety problems, including an increase in gunfire in city parks and cancellation of a summer movie series at Magnuson Park because of recent muggings.
Running in a crowded Aug. 1 mayoral primary, McGinn lately has sought to garner attention by making O’Toole a campaign issue. He recently criticized the chief for spending time heading a commission reviewing Ireland’s national police force.
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“I understand she may be trying to hedge her bets, but if she’s accepting other jobs and applying for other jobs, why not be transparent about that?” McGinn said. “I seem to remember she said just last week, in response to the Ireland thing, ‘I’m not auditioning for any other jobs.’ Now the Baltimore thing comes out. Well, she is auditioning for a job.”
O’Toole rejected McGinn’s suggestion she is not committed to leading Seattle police.
“Oh God, that’s ridiculous,” she said. “I have worked 24/7 for the past three years. I sleep with my phone next to my pillow every night.”
O’Toole, hired in 2014, is paid $273,275 a year as Seattle’s police chief. She said, other than some airfare, she has not been paid for her Ireland role and did not know what she might be paid if her team wins the Baltimore contract.
According to bid documents published by The Baltimore Sun, O’Toole is part of a group led by consultant firms Exiger and 21st Century Policing.
The group is proposing a contract worth nearly $1.5 million in the first year, and $7 million over five years.
The documents say O’Toole “will initially serve in an advisory capacity, and later assume additional responsibilities on the monitoring team.”
O’Toole said she did not know how much time that would require, calling details of the Baltimore work “speculative” unless a contract is reached.
“If I am doing the Seattle police chief job, naturally I won’t be able to commit to other things to the extent that they want me to. This would always be my priority, and other things would be secondary,” she said.
O’Toole said she informed Mayor Ed Murray’s legal counsel about the possible work and was told nothing precluded it.
Murray spokesman Benton Strong said O’Toole’s Baltimore application “continues to show how well respected the work SPD is doing is around the country.”
City Council President Bruce Harrell said he had been unaware of O’Toole’s Baltimore bid — and it caused him some concern.
“Now more than ever the police department needs strong and consistent leadership,” Harrell said. “In addition to leading the department, you have to be present in the communities with the rank and file in front of the organizations that are advocating for strong police and strong accountability, and if these consulting opportunities are in any way compromising that … they should be discouraged.”
But City Councilmember Tim Burgess came to O’Toole’s defense and ripped McGinn as an opportunist.
In a text message, Burgess said he found it “so ironic” that McGinn, who clashed with the Justice Department and delayed Seattle police reforms when he was mayor, “is now blasting the chief because she is held in such high regard … So crass. So self-serving. So wrong.”
Baltimore is seeking to hire a monitor to oversee police reforms arising out of a Justice Department investigation that began after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who died from injuries he suffered while in police custody. A consent decree between the city and the Justice Department was approved by a federal judge in April.
O’Toole has relevant experience as Seattle’s police chief while the city has moved on its own reforms after a 2012 Justice Department consent decree to address excessive force and biased policing.
Similarly, she has experience in Ireland police issues. From 2006 to 2012, she was chief inspector of the Garda Siochana Inspectorate, an agency that inspects Ireland’s national police force.
She was also a member of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, the Patten Commission, which was established in 1998 to inquire into policing in Northern Ireland.
Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said O’Toole had run the Baltimore consulting work by him and he advised her there was no ethical problem as long as she did the work on her own time.
Asked whether she’s planning to leave Seattle, O’Toole made no commitments beyond the end of Murray’s term this year. Murray is not seeking re-election.
“We’ll see what happens in terms of the election. I just keep my eye on the ball right now. If other alternatives emerge in the future, I have to consider them then,” she said.