In a key move, new Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole promoted Assistant Chief Carmen Best to serve as deputy chief and second in command Thursday, saying Best has demonstrated she has the “right compass” to oversee department issues.
Best, 49, has moved rapidly through the ranks since 2012, jumping from lieutenant to captain and then assistant chief as the department underwent a series of shake-ups in the top command amid a federal mandate to curtail excessive force and biased policing.
“Since I was appointed, Carmen has shown me she cares deeply for this department and the community,” O’Toole said in a written statement.
O’Toole, who was sworn in June 23, called Best a respected leader within the department who has shown in her most recent assignment as head of criminal investigations that she has “the energy, integrity, work ethic, commitment and skills to move the Seattle Police Department forward.”
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The move comes weeks after O’Toole tapped a civilian instead of a sworn officer to oversee a broad range of administrative functions, including information technology identified as needing vast improvement before the department can emerge from a 2012 settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to carry out the reforms.
In choosing Mike Wagers, who most recently worked in an executive position for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, to serve as chief operating officer — the equivalent of a deputy chief — O’Toole fulfilled a pledge to bring more efficient business practices to the department.
O’Toole said in an interview Thursday that her selections of Best and Wagers, along with other organizational changes she unveiled, represent the “first wave,” to be followed by performance evaluations to decide whether other moves are needed.
She said she took a similar “sink or swim” approach when she served as Boston’s police commissioner from 2004 to 2006, which resulted in a second set of changes.
Best immediately impressed her, O’Toole said.
“She has the whole package,” O’Toole said. “She is a genuinely decent person.”
Since joining the department in 1992, Best’s assignments have included patrol, school safety, patrol supervisor, media-relations supervisor, watch commander, operations lieutenant, narcotics commander, robbery, gangs and fugitive commander, community-outreach commander and South Precinct commander.
Addressing Best’s unusual and quick ascent, O’Toole said, “Sometimes I have to be bold” and noted that she herself had advanced rapidly at a young age in her law-enforcement career.
Assistant Chief Mike Washburn, who has served as chief of staff, will no longer fill that role but will retain his rank with new duties to be determined, O’Toole said.
O’Toole also announced that Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, who had been handling the duties now assigned to Wagers, will head the Special Operations Bureau, which will be combined with the Homeland Security Bureau.
As a result, Assistant Chief Joe Kessler, who had overseen Homeland Security, will return to his previous rank of captain, handling special projects for Wagers.
Assistant Chief Robin Clark will replace Best in the Criminal Investigations Bureau.
Assistant Chief Nick Metz will remain as head of patrol operations, and Assistant Chief Tag Gleason will continue to oversee the Compliance and Professional Standards Bureau.
Overall, the moves represent a restructuring of the command staff assembled by Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey, who is retiring this week. Bailey previously retired as an assistant chief but returned in January at the request of newly elected Mayor Ed Murray.
Murray required O’Toole to bring in at least one outside aide, in part to bolster the reform effort.