Seattle Mayor Durkan and newly hired Police Chief Carmen Best are a formidable team to continue reforming and improving the department. Here’s a to-do list.
The combination of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and newly appointed Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best could result in one of the nation’s premier police departments.
Seattle is already a model for police reform. After a slow start, it ended patterns of unconstitutional policing under a federal consent decree negotiated when Durkan was the local U.S. attorney.
Best is a 26-year veteran and part of the leadership team that largely completed the turnaround. She was named permanent chief last week.
But there is still more to be done improving the culture and performance of the department, and addressing legitimate concerns about safety and civility, as Seattle grows and tries to maintain its livability and appeal to visitors and employers.
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This will be a defining issue for Durkan’s administration, especially since police reform is a signature accomplishment of her career.
A useful guide is the punch list of problems to fix prepared by co-chairs of Durkan’s police-chief search committee. They compiled the list after seeking perspective from officers, the federal police-reform monitor, prosecutors and other chiefs.
Co-chairs include former city council member, mayor and policeman Tim Burgess, and former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, who leads the state criminal justice training commission.
In a May 25 memo, they said Seattle’s police department made “remarkable improvement” in training, de-escalation and use of force, and has many outstanding employees who deserve more credit for their work.
But they also listed serious problems that must be resolved by the new chief, including:
• Deployment challenges resulting in less than half of officers being assigned to patrol, well below the national average of 60 percent. Insufficient numbers of officers on patrol “leads to the response-time challenges SPD faces and reduces public confidence.”
• Community policing is viewed “as a public relations effort instead of a crime, fear and disorder reduction strategy.” The department is “response-driven instead of prevention or problem-solving driven.”
• A lack of supervisor accountability standards and capabilities.
• Officers and detectives “produce an inconsistent work product in terms of thoroughness and accuracy.” This hindered prosecution of some cases and “reflects a supervisory and management failure and a culture that accepts poor performance.”
• A persistent lack of systems to manage and monitor overtime.
• Inconsistent discipline practices: “Getting discipline right, and minimizing the chance for arbitration reversals, is essential for strengthening public trust and confidence.”
That list should be a starting point for Durkan to set performance and accountability goals and measure progress beyond the consent decree. Durkan already used the list when interviewing finalists for the job, asking how they would address each point.
Progress is mandatory in a city growing impatient with inconsistent law enforcement, uncertain responsiveness and substantial crime increases in some neighborhoods, disproportionate to city growth.
Best and Durkan played key roles in reforming a troubled department.
Together, they are a formidable team to tackle the remaining institutional challenges, increase safety and civility, and operate an outstanding police department.