Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best’s announcement that she will retire after nearly 30 years with the Seattle Police Department the day after the City Council voted to cut her department’s budget by nearly $4 million is a tragedy.
The council’s decision to also cut the salary of Chief Best and her command staff was the final straw in a series of missteps that pitted the Black Lives Matter movement against the Seattle Police Department.
The council’s vote sends a powerful symbolic message that is a step back for equity for women and women of color in law enforcement. The exclusion of Chief Best’s expertise in decisions under her purview and the slashing of the salary of Seattle’s first Black female police chief and her command staff — one of the most diverse in the country — in the name of racial equity is a sucker punch of epic proportions to a woman who had devoted her life to serving and protecting Seattle. These decisions are an embarrassment that show mind-boggling disrespect and devaluation of our police chief and that have potential impact for recruitment and retention of women and women of color in law enforcement and SPD.
Make no mistake, the council’s exclusion of Chief Best in their budget decision-making processes was a targeted, personal, anti-feminist, anti-Black, mean-spirited, retaliatory, punitive attack on our city’s first Black female police chief. The lack of consideration and respect shown for Chief Best’s expertise was about who Carmen Best is as a police chief. It was about who she is as a person of utmost integrity, her steadfast commitment to her department, about who she is as a community leader and about who she is as a Black woman in an extraordinarily challenging position of power.
Chief Best is a role model in law enforcement and public safety. She has been on the streets, in the community and leading the Seattle Police Department with dignity, professionalism and integrity. The amount of grace and commitment to the community Chief Best showed throughout all that was thrown at her before, during and throughout her tenure as chief is nothing short of remarkable. Her leaving SPD is an enormous loss for the community.
Chief Best rose to the challenge with all she had. She had an unblemished career spanning three decades rising through the ranks of SPD. She listened to the community. She was respected by the SPD rank-and-file. She maintained calm, and poise and dignity in the face of a social movement that attacked the Police Department at a time when the department was lauded as a nationwide model of policing.
When asked about whether she thought the decisions made by the council had anything to do with her being a Black woman or if the council’s actions were racist, Chief Best said, with elegance and hope, “I’m not using that harsh word … I would like to make sure the interactions are positive moving forward … There is no police chief in the country that wouldn’t say the job is challenging. The challenge of police in society today is great no matter who you are … I think I represent opportunity. There are very few African American women in this role. I represent what the future can hold.”
The council’s treatment of Chief Best is unacceptable and unforgivable. The council owes the city and Chief Best an apology for what it has done.