Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole announced Wednesday her selection of four new assistant chiefs in a major overhaul of the department’s top ranks.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole announced Wednesday that she is bringing in two people from outside the department to serve as assistant chiefs, ending the department’s decades-long practice of filling the posts with officers who made their way up the ranks.
Robert Merner, the high-ranking chief of detectives in the Boston Police Department, will assume the same job in Seattle.
Perry Tarrant, a former Tucson, Ariz., police official and current head of Yakima’s gang-free initiative and emergency preparedness, will head the Special Operations Bureau, which includes homeland security.
O’Toole, who outlined the moves in an interview with The Seattle Times and during a news conference Wednesday morning, is also taking the rare action of promoting a department lieutenant, Lesley Cordner, to assistant chief, a job that typically goes to a captain. Cordner will handle federally mandated reforms.
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In a more traditional move, O’Toole is promoting a precinct captain, Steve Wilske, to assistant chief in charge of patrol operations. The position has taken on greater significance since 2012, when the city entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to adopt the reforms to curtail excessive force and biased policing.
Four current assistant chiefs were informed by O’Toole on Monday that they will be demoted to their civil-service rank of captain. They could choose to retire. Former Assistant Chief Nick Metz, who oversaw patrol operations, recently left to become the police chief in Aurora, Colo.
Wilske replaces Metz as head of patrol. Merner will assume the duties of Assistant Chief Robin Clark, while Tarrant takes over the responsibilities of Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh and Cordner replaces Assistant Chief Tag Gleason in his position.
A fifth assistant-chief position overseeing the Field Support Bureau, which includes the 911 call center and data-driven policing, will remain unfilled for now. Duties now held by Assistant Chief Mike Washburn, who was among those demoted, will be handled by others in the department, according to O’Toole, as she considers whether to fill the job with a civilian or a sworn officer.
O’Toole also announced a new chief information officer Wednesday morning. Greg Russell, an Amazon vice president who oversaw applications, enterprise data warehouse and IT, will start on March 17.
News conference set
Even before O’Toole took command of the department in June, other assistant chiefs were swept out in the fallout from the federal oversight.
O’Toole, who signaled a major reorganization when she opened all the assistant-chief jobs to competition in January, planned to discuss the changes at a news conference Wednesday.
They represent the most far-reaching personnel moves since last year, when she elevated Carmen Best, an assistant chief, to deputy chief, the No. 2 position in the sworn ranks, and appointed a civilian, Mike Wagers, to the newly created post of chief operating officer.
The department’s management union had challenged a 2014 city ordinance that gave the police chief the unfettered ability to hire outsiders as assistant and deputy chiefs.
The Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) maintained the city was required to bargain with the union before it repealed the 1978 rule that required assistant and deputy chiefs to be hired from among lieutenants and captains inside the department. It is awaiting an official ruling.
O’Toole has said the city selection committee that interviewed her for the job made clear they wanted “new blood” from outside the department.
However, during Wednesday’s news conference, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the SPMA had withdrawn its complaint after an agreement was reached.
In a deal finalized Wednesday morning, SPMA dropped an unfair-labor-practice complaint after the city agreed to create a leadership program to assist captains and lieutenants develop the skills to move up the ladder or make them attractive to other departments, said Capt. Mike Edwards, the union president.
Merner, who joined the Boston Police Department in 1986, worked under O’Toole when she served as Boston police commissioner from 2004 to 2006.
Although O’Toole promoted him to lieutenant then, she said, she didn’t know him well, except for his reputation as one of the department’s hardest-working officers.
He is a four-time medal-of-honor winner in Boston, O’Toole said, and was one of the first officers to respond to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
O’Toole said she was unaware that he had applied for the Seattle job until he became a finalist. He told her he didn’t alert her of his interest because that would have been inappropriate, she said.
As Boston’s chief of detectives, Merner oversaw 800 employees as superintendent of the Bureau of Investigative Services.
In 2010, Merner took a voluntary demotion from deputy superintendent to lieutenant detective for family and personal reasons, according to a Boston Globe story that quoted then-police commissioner Ed Davis.
Merner had been reprimanded earlier that year over the mistreatment of other officers during an incident at police headquarters, but Davis said the reprimand had nothing to do with the demotion, The Globe reported.
A new commissioner, William Evans, promoted Merner in January 2014 to his current superintendent position, one of the highest posts in the department.
An experienced investigator, Merner led several high-profile investigations during his career, including Boston’s Craigslist killer case in 2009. Earlier in his career, he was part of an innovative project to reduce violence among at-risk youth.
Tarrant began the Yakima job last year, in a dual position overseeing efforts to control gang activities and plan for emergencies such as natural disasters.
During a long career in the Tucson Police Department, which he joined in 1980, Tarrant rose to the rank of captain. He worked in patrol, SWAT and the K-9 unit and supervised internal affairs, traffic, SWAT and other operations.
As a captain, Tarrant served in various command roles, including patrol and investigations.
He is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the National Fire Academy.
O’Toole said she was introduced to Tarrant by a former Seattle minister now at a church in Yakima and, after talking to Tarrant, she told him she was taking applications for assistant chief.
Cordner, a 26-year Seattle police veteran, will serve as assistant chief in charge of compliance and professional standards, focusing on the consent decree and working with the federal monitor overseeing police reforms. Her hire date with the department was given as 1985, but that is when she began working for the city at City Light.
She most recently has been a special aide to O’Toole, after previously serving as a lieutenant in the North Precinct.
Her past police duties include patrol, domestic-violence investigations, internal investigations and traffic-collision investigations. Before becoming a police officer, she worked as a Boeing engineer.
In choosing her to oversee compliance, O’Toole cited Cordner’s organizational skills.
Wilske, a 28-year-veteran, commanded a patrol watch in the West Precinct from 2000 to 2004. He also commanded the SWAT and hostage-negotiation team, followed by the robbery and gang unit.
In 2009, he was made homicide and crime-scene investigations commander.
After being named a captain in 2013, Wilske oversaw the creation of the new Force Investigations Team, a key element of the federal reforms. He then was named to his current assignment as the Southwest Precinct commander.
Wilske, O’Toole said, is widely respected in the department for his calm and commanding presence, as well as his ability to mentor officers.