Best is a 26-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department and the first African American to serve as its permanent chief.
The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to confirm Interim Police Chief Carmen Best as the city’s permanent police chief.
“I had no idea I had so much support in the community,” Best said, addressing the crowd after the vote and asking her backers to stay involved during any tough times to come. “I’m counting on all of you.”
“You’ve earned this,” said Council President Bruce Harrell, drawing a loud “amen” from some Best supporters in the audience at City Hall.
Nominated by Mayor Jenny Durkan, Best is a 26-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department and the first African-American person to serve as its permanent chief.
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She began serving as interim chief on Jan. 1, after Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole departed at the end of last year, and she served as deputy chief under O’Toole.
The council vote — 8-0, with Councilmember Rob Johnson absent — came after the council heard from Best at committee meetings and at a public hearing.
She enjoyed unusually robust support from both community activists and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG). Several council members praised Best’s willingness to connect with members of the public and rank-and-file officers alike.
“You’ve managed to pull in a wide range of folks,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien said. “You’ll need that going forward.”
Best’s smooth path to council approval contrasted starkly with the bumpy road that led to her nomination by the mayor. She was initially excluded from a group of three finalists announced in May, with a co-chair of Durkan’s search committee suggesting an outside candidate would be better equipped to push ahead with police reforms.
The snub of an African-American woman with strong ties to Seattle’s communities drew outrage from activists and from SPOG, and the Seattle Community Police Commission launched an inquiry into the chief-selection process.
But the mayor added Best in July to the group of finalists when another candidate withdrew his name from consideration, allowing her to compete with Austin, Texas Assistant Chief Ely Reyes and Minneapolis precinct Inspector Eddie Frizell. After that remarkable turn of events, Durkan interviewed all three candidates and chose Best.
The new permanent chief will oversee a force of more than 1,400 officers and will lead a department trying to cement six years of court-ordered reforms.
Since 2012, Seattle has been subject to a federal consent decree requiring its police to address excessive force and biased policing. U.S. District Judge James Robart determined the city to be in compliance with the decree in January, triggering a two-year review period during which the department must show its reforms are locked in.
For years, the city has been negotiating with SPOG, which represents more than 1,300 officers and sergeants, on a new contract considered important for the reforms.
During a council committee meeting last week, Councilmember Kshama Sawant pressed Best on her support from SPOG, saying the union has obstructed the reforms.
Best said she would balance the “professional tension” between SPOG and department leaders alongside the need to maintain a “conversation” with the union.
When Sawant asked the nominee to answer — with a simple yes or no — whether there remain systemic problems in the department with excessive force and biased policing, Best instead chose to describe those issues as complex.
The socialist council member, who cast the only vote against O’Toole’s confirmation in 2014, expressed doubt Monday that Best would enact radical changes, comparing the police to a “rotten tree” rather than a healthy tree with only a few bad apples.
But in the end, Sawant said she would vote for Best anyway — in solidarity with community members pushing for Seattle’s first permanent African-American chief, “who overwhelmingly have urged me not to stand in the way.”
Best took her official oath of office in the mayor’s office following the council vote, and the city will hold a series of celebratory swearing-in ceremonies Aug. 21, Durkan spokeswoman Stephanie Formas said.
Hired by the Seattle police in 1992, Best completed a variety of assignments, including stints in patrol, school safety, media relations and community outreach.
She also worked as a patrol supervisor and operations lieutenant, and held command positions in the department’s narcotics unit and its robbery, gangs and fugitives unit.
Best briefly served as South Precinct commander before a promotion to assistant chief of criminal investigations. Shortly after O’Toole was appointed chief by Mayor Ed Murray in 2014, O’Toole named Best her deputy chief.
On Monday, Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she guessed Best would become Seattle’s permanent chief earlier this year while attending a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Mount Zion Baptist Church, where a number of politicians delivered remarks.
“None of them got standing ovations,” Herbold said. “But Chief Best? She got two.”