The three finalists to become Seattle’s next police chief have different styles and skills, but each shares a passion for police work and a willingness to embrace federally mandated reforms imposed on the Police Department, the co-chairs of the search committee said Friday in announcing the top selections for the job.
“All of them are exceptional,” Ron Sims, former King County executive and ex-deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said at a midday news conference.
The finalists, who were unanimously chosen by the 12-member search committee after interviews and close vetting, are Kathleen O’Toole, former Boston police commissioner; Robert Lehner, police chief in Elk Grove, Calif.; and Frank Milstead, chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department.
A fourth candidate, Patrick R. Melvin, the police chief of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona, was eliminated after each was given a four-question written examination.
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All of the finalists were described as highly respected in their communities, capable of working with people with different racial and cultural backgrounds, and willing to use technology to improve policing.
O’Toole and Milstead were unavailable for interviews Friday.
Lehner, in a phone interview, said Friday he was “really impressed” with Seattle’s search process.
“I’ve been through this a few times in different places,” he said. “This was a very, very thorough vetting. People knew there would be some pretty big names in the game, and there are. They pretty much turned over river, rock and stone.”
Of his desire for the Seattle job, he said, “I’ve been in the business for now over 35 years. I’ve made the state-to-state transition twice. I am at a place where I would want to take on a significant policing challenge. Elk Grove is a great place, crime rate is low, the department is in great shape, but the changes I was hired to make have been made.”
Unlike the previous search, no public forum with the finalists is planned this time. Community views on what people want in a new chief were solicited before the search committee began examining candidates.
The finalists will be interviewed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray before he makes his choice and submits the nominee to the City Council for confirmation.
Murray, who had said he would make his decision the week of May 19, altered that timetable Friday, saying through a spokesman that he would announce his choice sometime in mid-May.
Pramila Jayapal, the other co-chair for the search committee, said the three finalists are fully cognizant of the findings of a 2011 report in which the Department of Justice found Seattle police had engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force and displayed less conclusive but “troubling practices” of biased policing
The report led to a landmark agreement between the city and Justice Department, resulting in court-ordered reforms the new chief will be charged with carrying out.
In keeping with Murray’s wishes, Jayapal and Sims said, they looked for someone who wants a challenge and will take the Police Department beyond the federal requirements to create a national model.
Jayapal, a social-justice advocate and Distinguished Taconic Fellow at the Center for Community Change, said the city received nearly four dozen applications in its search for a “bold and courageous” chief.
City Council President Tim Burgess, a member of the search committee, credited Murray for setting up a search process that attracted top candidates.
Sims said Seattle would be well-served by any of the finalists.
But the front-runner appears to be O’Toole, 59, the only candidate with experience as a big-city police chief.
She served as Boston’s police commissioner from 2004 to 2006 and as chief inspector of Ireland’s national police from 2006 to 2012, garnering a reputation as an internationally recognized expert on police oversight who in 2013 was appointed to oversee police reforms in East Haven, Conn. She is now a consultant.
If selected, she would become Seattle’s first female police chief.
Milstead, 51, who in Mesa leads a department of 1,200 sworn and civilian employees, previously served for 25 years in the Phoenix Police Department, holding various command positions.
Lehner, 58, the Elk Grove chief, oversees a department of 131 sworn officers and 79 civilian employees in the Sacramento suburb. He previously served as police chief in Eugene, Ore., and once served as assistant chief in Tucson, Ariz.
The Seattle Police Department has more than 1,300 sworn officers and 533 civilian employees.
Lehner, in the phone interview, said in Elk Grove he helped create a police department less than 2 years old.
“Seattle is much more like Eugene,” he said. “Seattle is a great American city, that’s legitimately so. Seattle, call it under a policing crisis. There’s a lot of swirl going on, breakdown between the public and the department. That’s just what I was facing in Eugene, but on a larger scale.”
Staff reporter Christine Clarridge contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com. On Twitter @stevemiletich
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan