Members of the city's Community Police Commission want to know why Interim Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best isn't among three finalists for chief. They're seeking records from the mayor's office, and meanwhile, want the City Council to hold off on a confirmation hearing.
As the three finalists for Seattle police chief spent time this week meeting with community organizations, the city’s Community Police Commission (CPC) asked the City Council to postpone a confirmation hearing for the mayor’s as-yet unnamed nominee until commissioners get a clearer understanding of what kept Interim Police Chief Carmen Best out of the top group.
Following a nationwide search, Best – who is African American, has spent her entire policing career in Seattle, and has deep community ties – was the only woman and only candidate from inside the Seattle Police Department to make the top five to be considered for the chief’s job. She became interim chief Jan. 1, after Chief Kathleen O’Toole stepped down late last year.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan did not return a phone call, but emailed a three-page letter that was sent to the CPC on Friday. In it the mayor detailed the history of reform and efforts to confront bias, the organizations and people consulted, and the unfolding process of choosing a new police chief for a rapidly-changing city.
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Cody Reiter, a legislative aide to Councilmember M. Lorena González, who chairs the council’s public-safety committee, said the council is aware of the ongoing dialogue between the mayor’s office and the CPC but isn’t involved in those conversations. Reiter said a date has not been set for a confirmation hearing for the mayor’s pick.
A search committee appointed by Durkan selected the five semifinalists, a group winnowed to three in May. They are former Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay, who is the only finalist to have served as the chief of a large city department; Ely Reyes, assistant chief in the Austin Police Department in Texas; and Eddie Frizell, an inspector and former deputy chief of patrol in the Minneapolis Police Department.
All three spent a few days in Seattle this week, meeting with community groups and filming short interviews with the Seattle Channel. The candidates are to return to Seattle in July for formal interviews with Durkan.
McLay, Frizell and Reyes were ranked as the top three by the search committee, two sources familiar with the search process told The Seattle Times last month.
Best and Jorge Villegas, an assistant chief in the Los Angeles Police Department, were dropped from contention.
At the time, Best, a 26-year veteran of the department, issued a statement thanking Durkan for the opportunity to serve as interim chief and agreed to stay on until a new chief is confirmed.
But Best’s absence from the finalists’ group has drawn sharp criticism from some community leaders who say she was treated unfairly after playing a key role as a deputy chief in navigating the department through federally mandated reforms.
Two days after the three finalists were announced, the CPC requested records from the mayor’s office, said Isaac Ruiz, one of the CPC’s three co-chairs. The requested documents included records relating to the design of the recruitment and selection process, how the candidates were reduced from five to three, and criteria or policy viewpoints that may have shown a preference for an external candidate over an internal one. The CPC also requested the five candidates’ responses to written questions but have received only the three finalists’ answers, Ruiz said.
Though the CPC has received some records, others remain outstanding, despite assurances from the mayor’s office that they would be provided by Friday, according to Ruiz and a letter sent by the CPC to City Council members this week.
“As a co-chair of the CPC, I still don’t really understand how it played out,” Ruiz said of the selection of the three finalists. “It’s concerning because when we’re talking about policing and reform in the community, it’s important to have as much transparency as possible.”
It’s unknown when Durkan will present her nominee for chief to the council for a vote. But “what we don’t want is the council to act before we have access to the documents,” as well as time to review them and offer meaningful feedback, said Ruiz, an attorney with the Seattle law firm Keller Rohrback.
The CPC also has hired an independent expert to assess potential legal issues or issues related to equal employment opportunities in the search process.
“There are members of the CPC who feel very strongly that Interim Chief Best shouldn’t have been eliminated and these are commissioners with very deep ties within the community,” he said. “The process is moving along, which is why we have this concern that any feedback from the CPC or community will be too late to make any kind of difference.”
The CPC was mandated under the settlement agreement between the city and federal Department of Justice to provide community input on needed police reforms. The 2012 agreement include creation of the commission to help guide an independent, court-appointed monitor and ensure community involvement in reforms.
“The CPC is relatively new … and somewhat unique in this country in providing community oversight in policing,” Ruiz said. “There is an expectation the CPC will be independent and ask the tough questions.
“Sometimes that means people in government won’t be happy about the hard questions but that’s what we signed up to do and it’s what we’re doing in this case,” he said.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.