SEATTLE Mayor Ed Murray’s frustrations with the Seattle Police Department run deep. His choice to lead the city’s approximately 1,300 police officers will not be operating on autopilot.
The mayor is unequivocal in his assessment of the SPD as dysfunctional. In a recent meeting with The Seattle Times editorial board, he described the department as not having had adequate leadership for years.
The sense of a department adrift was all the more acute with The Times report Thursday on a 49 percent drop in citations written for misdemeanor crimes filed in court between 2005 and 2013.
Murray is scheduled to announce his choice among the finalists on Monday. His 12-member search committee presented him with three solid candidates, all with unanimous endorsements.
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The finalists are Robert Lehner, police chief in Elk Grove, Calif.; Frank Milstead, police chief in Mesa, Ariz.; and Kathleen O’Toole, former Boston police commissioner.
They are highly regarded professionals with extensive law-enforcement careers and credentials. The candidate the mayor picks and forwards to the Seattle City Council for confirmation takes on a job with two big challenges.
The first is working through the settlement agreement with the federal Department of Justice, which called out the SPD for excessive use of force and biased policing.
The latter was echoed in the plunge in misdemeanor arrests. A dramatic drop in statistics, but still a residual focus on people of color by law enforcement.
The second challenge is meeting the mayor’s expectations for departmental transparency, integrity and communication skills.
Murray is adamant about the SPD being brought into the 21st century with law-enforcement protocols and practices that employ technology and use data to track trouble spots and efficiently deploy resources. (For more suggestions for the police chief, see our guest columnists weighing in on the opposite page.)
The mayor wants a chief with communications skills inside the department and out in the community. Murray wants a chief who can move the department out of its cloistered environment in the SPD bunker.
The next chief will have a Department of Justice settlement and Murray to contend with. The next hire needs to know that going into the job.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).