Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole outlined the backgrounds of the four people she has chosen to be her assistant chiefs and announced the hiring of an Amazon.com vice president to handle technology.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole introduced four new assistant chiefs Wednesday, saying she wanted to bring a “greater sense of urgency” to her leadership team as the department strives to comply with federally mandated reforms.
Her message didn’t have to travel far: In the audience at the news conference was Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed federal monitor overseeing the department’s efforts to curtail excessive force and biased policing.
Afterward, Bobb said he would be reporting to U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over a 2012 consent decree between the city and U.S. Justice Department, that O’Toole had taken an “important” step with the naming of the new command staff.
O’Toole also announced the hiring of an Amazon.com vice president whose duties will range from data analysis to policies governing the use of body cameras.
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Greg Russell, who will serve in the newly created position of chief information officer, will lead a civilian staff of about 50 focusing on ways to track and predict crime by sorting through vast amounts of crime data.
Mayor Ed Murray opened the news conference by saying the city’s goal was to go beyond the requirements of the consent decree and create a national model. He said O’Toole’s picks would allow the department “to learn, to change and to grow.”
He also revealed that a potential impediment to the hiring of two of the assistant chiefs, one from Boston and the other from Yakima, had been lifted under an agreement with the Seattle Police Management Union (SPMA) to withdraw a demand to bargain the hiring of outsiders.
In a deal finalized Wednesday morning, SPMA dropped an unfair-labor-practice complaint after the city agreed to establish a leadership-development program to assist captains and lieutenants in developing skills to move up the ladder or to make them attractive to other departments, said Capt. Mike Edwards, the union president.
The agreement means that the two new assistant chiefs, Robert Merner, the chief of detectives in Boston, and Perry Tarrant, a former Tucson, Ariz., police official currently heading Yakima’s gang-free initiative and emergency preparedness, will start their jobs April 15 without the complaint looming over their jobs.
Merner will hold the same job in Seattle; Tarrant will oversee special operations, including homeland security.
The other two new chiefs, who both come from within the department, are Steve Wilske, promoted from Southwest Precinct captain, and Lesley Cordner, an aide to O’Toole who is making the rare leap from lieutenant to the top ranks. Their appointments began Wednesday.
O’Toole cleared the deck for the changes on Monday, when she demoted four current assistant chiefs. One open position will be filled later.
Wilske, 53, said he is elated to be returning to the patrol division where he spent 19 of his 28 years with the department.
“You go where you’re assigned. I’m so glad I get to go to patrol,” Wilske said.
He said he plans to focus on downtown disorder issues and violent crimes, including robberies and aggravated assaults.
Patrol strategies need to be geographic, he said, noting what works best for Alki won’t work best in Rainier Valley. “I’m a huge proponent of foot beats.”
Tarrant, 56, said that when he left Tucson police, retiring as a captain after 34 years, he never thought he’d return to wearing a uniform.
He said when he met O’Toole he wanted to talk with her about possibly speaking at a Yakima-area college. But once they started talking about policing, they never got to the possible speaking engagement.
“This is absolutely huge. It’s exciting,” he said of his new job.
“It’s my absolute intent to use every tool in my tool bag to move this organization past the consent decree,” Tarrant said.
Cordner, 54, who will oversees compliance with the federal reforms as part of her duties, said her 25 years of policing in Seattle — initially given as 30 by the department — had raced by and that she now hopes to help officers understand the reforms.
“I intend to be out there in the precincts,” she said.
Merner, 56, who said he had “grown up” in the Boston Police Department, said it is easy to become comfortable but that he wanted a “personal and professional challenge.”
“I can do it there, but can I do it somewhere else?” he said.
During the news conference, he called himself both an “enforcement guy ” and a believer in community engagement.
Russell, a 46-year-old native of Scotland who will start work Tuesday, drew loud laughter at the news conference when, after speaking in a heavy Scottish accent, he insisted “It was English.”
His duties will include using technology to address transparency and privacy issues.
With rapidly expanding use of patrol-car video and body cameras, police departments across the state have struggled to come up with a way to balance the public’s right to know with the privacy rights of individuals.
Mike Wagers, a civilian brought in by O’Toole as the Seattle department’s chief operating officer, said he doesn’t know of any other police agency in the country that has hired a leader from a major tech company to be chief information officer.
Russell said in an interview this week that when he saw the job advertised on LinkedIn in December he was immediately struck by how “cool” it would be to help the department.
“I just want to help. It’s something new for me,” he said.
At the news conference, Russell, who became a U.S. citizen last year, said one of the first things he plans to do is shadow officers so he can learn what they do.
He initially declined the offer to join the Police Department but changed his mind when his wife told him he had been “grumpy” after he had said no, O’Toole said.
He will be taking a sizable pay cut to work at the equivalent level of an assistant chief, with an annual salary of $180,000.
Each of the new assistant chiefs will earn $189,247 annually.
Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which represents officers and sergeants, said O’Toole had made good picks, particularly Wilske whom he described as “well respected.”
City Council President Tim Burgess and Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chairman of the council’s public-safety committee, who sponsored last year’s repeal of a restriction on hiring outsiders as assistant chiefs, praised O’Toole’s moves.
“It’s a bold step and a very correct step,” Burgess said.