Vowing to create a police force “second to none,” Kathleen O’Toole was sworn in as chief of the Seattle Police Department on Monday afternoon, shortly after the City Council voted 8-to-1 to confirm her for a job that will immediately test her ability to carry out federally mandated reforms, restore morale throughout the ranks and rebuild community trust.
With her husband, Dan, and adult daughter, Meghan, watching, O’Toole, 60, took the oath from Mayor Ed Murray, who nominated her May 19 after a nationwide search.
O’Toole became the first woman to be confirmed for the job. She served as Boston’s first female police commissioner from 2004 to 2006.
“I want members of the Seattle PD to hold your heads high,” O’Toole said during a City Hall ceremony packed with police officials, dignitaries and longtime friends of O’Toole’s who traveled from Massachusetts. “We’re going to work together and we’re going to accomplish some great things.”
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Councilmember Kshama Sawant cast the sole vote against confirmation, citing concern over O’Toole’s stated intention of running the department like an efficient business. Sawant said businesses are not accountable to people.
The socialist City Council member, who said she was speaking on behalf of working people, expressed doubts that O’Toole would make the bold changes needed to address police abuses and crime problems.
Other members voiced their strong support for O’Toole, and the council voted 8-1 in favor of paying her $250,000 a year — an increase from the previous level of about $215,000 — and up to $40,000 in moving expenses. Sawant again voted no.
O’Toole replaces Interim Chief Harry Bailey, a retired Seattle assistant chief who was named to the position in January when Murray took office. Seattle has been without a permanent chief since John Diaz announced his retirement in April 2013.
O’Toole was confirmed after undergoing three hearings before the council’s public-safety committee, including a public meeting in South Seattle. The committee voted 5-0 on June 12 to recommend her appointment.
She will immediately take over a beleaguered Seattle department, which has been operating for two years under a federal consent decree to curtail excessive force and biased policing.
Just last week, the federal court monitor overseeing the agreement reported that the department had made significant strides.
But monitor Merrick Bobb said the reforms will require additional building blocks, including a new computer system to fully track progress, more sergeants on the street and a broader acceptance of change in the department.
Bobb cited the recent federal lawsuit filed by more than 100 officers, detectives and sergeants seeking to block new use-of-force policies mandated under the 2012 consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Much work remains to ensure that the objectives and goals of the Consent Decree have been understood and internalized by all officers — whether command staff or the rank and file,” his 95-page report said in a conclusion that underscored the challenges facing O’Toole.
O’Toole, after being sworn in by Murray, pledged to work cooperatively with the Justice Department and Bobb to carry out reforms and listen to voices from every Seattle neighborhood and within the department.
On a day focused on celebration, marked by bagpipes playing “America the Beautiful” as O’Toole appeared for the first time in full dress uniform, she did not reveal any specific plans.
But O’Toole has said she will evaluate the senior command staff, which has been repeatedly shaken by retirements, changes and scrutiny in the past year. Murray has asked her to bring in at least one outside assistant.
O’Toole glided through the confirmation process, emphasizing four themes: restoring public trust; rebuilding pride inside the department; improving the quality of life and reducing crime in neighborhoods; and operating the department as an effective and efficient business.
After leaving the commissioner job in Boston, O’Toole served from 2006 to 2012 as chief inspector of the national police in Ireland in the wake of a major corruption scandal.
Among those in the Seattle audience Monday was Anne Anderson, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States.
Most recently, O’Toole has worked as a law-enforcement consultant.
She began her police career in 1979, joining the Boston Police Department as a patrol officer. She spent seven years there before holding various public and private jobs in Massachusetts, including as secretary of public safety and lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Police.
Her husband is a retired Boston police detective.
Seattle previously had a female police chief, Bertha Landes, but she lasted only a few days in that office.
As Seattle City Council president in 1924, Landes was acting mayor while Mayor Edwin Brown was in New York City for the Democratic National Convention.
She wielded her temporary powers to fire Police Chief William Severyns after accusing the Police Department of collusion with bootleggers and gambling joints. Naming herself acting chief, she then ordered a campaign to shut down vice activities.
The action was reversed when Brown, alerted by a telegram, boarded a train home to resume his duties.
Landes went on to serve as Seattle’s first and only female mayor.
Monday’s swearing-in ceremony took place in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at City Hall.
O’Toole and her family planned to attend Monday night’s Seattle Mariners game against the Boston Red Sox. She promised to wear a Mariners cap.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @stevemiletich