The Seattle City Council’s public-safety committee voted 5 to 0 Thursday to confirm former Boston police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole as the city’s next police chief, virtually assuring her appointment when the full nine-member council votes on her nomination June 23.
“You already have five votes, so that’s a good sign,” committee Chairman Bruce Harrell quipped at the end of a brief confirmation hearing during which O’Toole was presented with a draft letter laying out the council’s expectations of her.
“I just want to get to work,” O’Toole said shortly after the third hearing in the confirmation process concluded at City Hall.
She would take over the department the day of the full-council vote, riding a tide of goodwill and a desire to quickly get her on board that has greeted O’Toole since Mayor Ed Murray nominated her May 19.
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O’Toole, now a law-enforcement consultant, represents Murray’s most important selection, coming 2½ years after the Department of Justice found the Police Department had engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that pushed the city into a landmark consent decree requiring sweeping reforms.
O’Toole, 60, who has pledged to restore public trust, hold officers accountable and rebuild pride within the department, faces a host of challenges, underscored in the detailed draft letter given to her. It spells out 11 top expectations, including an immediate review of how the department is run and how it deploys patrol officers. While the department expects to have a monthly average of 1,255 sworn officers throughout 2014, “only” about half, including patrol officers and sergeants, were assigned to street duty as of last September, the letter said. The council has allocated $500,000 for the review.
The six-page letter, which will be put into final form before the full-council vote, also calls for O’Toole to improve public safety, using “evidence-based, best-practice strategies and tactics to solve recurring and new crime problems and to target and apprehend serious repeat offenders.”
Harrell noted that a “critical part” of O’Toole’s job will be to develop effective training to de-escalate seemingly minor encounters that instead have drawn scrutiny.
Technology also will be crucial, Harrell said, as the department spends an estimated $12 million to build a computer system required under the federal consent decree. The system will be used to collect and analyze data, in part to flag officers whose use of force and job performance raise questions.
Harrell gave O’Toole a chance to clarify previous statements that she would put a top priority on running the department as an effective and efficient business, which, Harrell said, had generated some concern.
O’Toole said her comments had been taken out of context and seen by some as reflecting an impersonal approach, when her true goal is to get into the community and develop neighborhood policing plans. The business side, she said, reflects a need to carefully allocate hundreds of millions of dollars and determine what works.
Council President Tim Burgess told O’Toole she was doing what was expected of her. “I wouldn’t back down from that at all,” he said.
The council letter also asks O’Toole to identify a “long-term” captain to head the South Precinct, where a history of homicides, a recent rash of shootings and recurring crime problems have led to citizen complaints about a revolving door of police leadership. The precinct is now on its seventh leader since 2006.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen questioned why some homicides remain unsolved. Rasmussen joined with Harrell, Burgess and Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Jean Godden in voting to confirm O’Toole.
In comments after the meeting, O’Toole said she plans to form a transition group and steering committee to focus on what is in the letter. O’Toole, who served as Boston’s police commissioner from 2004 to 2006, then for six years as chief inspector of the national police in Ireland, said of the task facing her in Seattle:
“I tend to be impatient, I want to get everything done yesterday. So the biggest challenge will be to prioritize and be focused and to have a clear game plan so that we don’t spin our wheels.”
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich