Mayor Jenny Durkan nominated Carmen Best as chief of the Seattle Police Department, passing up two outsider candidates after a monthslong national search with several surprise twists.
After weeks of twists and turns, in the end Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan surprised almost no one when she named interim Police Chief Carmen Best her nominee for the permanent job Tuesday, choosing a local favorite over a pair of outside candidates.
In an anticlimactic news conference at City Hall, Durkan opted to focus on the moment rather than dwell on the dramatic events that led her to select Best, a 26-year Seattle police veteran, after the mayor’s advisers initially left Best off the list of finalists.
“Everyone knows Chief Best and knows she can deliver results,” Durkan said of what could be her most important decision since taking office last year.
“She knows our city and our officers. She has worked in every neighborhood and understands the unique public-safety challenges facing every one of our communities,” the mayor said, adding, “She has [an] unparalleled work ethic. You can’t keep up with her.”
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Pending confirmation by the City Council, the mayor’s pick will oversee a force of more than 1,400 officers and lead a police department still working to earn community trust after six years of federally mandated, court-ordered reforms.
“We will move ahead with a culture of continuous improvement and innovation at the Seattle Police Department,” Best said. “This is what I expect. It is what our community deserves.”
At Durkan’s request, Best, who had risen to the rank of deputy chief, began serving as interim chief Jan. 1 after Kathleen O’Toole stepped down from the position. Best is the first African-American woman to serve as interim chief and, if confirmed, would become the first permanent African-American chief in the department’s history.
Best applied for the permanent position, but after a monthslong search process, she wasn’t among three candidates initially forwarded to Durkan as finalists for the chief job. The three were chosen by mayoral advisers in May from a list of five semifinalists, including Best, submitted by a search committee.
At the time, some involved in the search said an outsider would be better suited to continue reforming the department.
Best’s exclusion drew intense criticism from community leaders and from the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), who cited her reform work and the trust she had established in the community and with department’s rank and file.
With Durkan’s selection nearing, the mayor’s advisers put Best back in the running this month, after former Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay suddenly dropped his candidacy and began conversations with Durkan to work as an adviser to the city on police reform.
At that stage, Durkan opted to choose Best in what was viewed as an elegant solution to a difficult political problem, even as the search process continued, The Seattle Times reported July 8, quoting sources.
Tuesday’s news conference grew somewhat tense as reporters repeatedly asked Durkan to explain why Best had been first overlooked, and then selected.
In response, the mayor said that while some found the process to be intriguing, she was focused on hiring the best police chief. She noted she accepted input throughout the selection process, up through last week.
She said Best, 53, was the right candidate for the job because she understands how rapid growth is changing Seattle and because she has helped push reforms.
While the potential role of McLay, a nationally recognized police reformer, has yet to be defined, Durkan said Tuesday that there will be only one police chief.
Her office said Durkan remained in talks with McLay, but that he hasn’t been formally offered a position,
Enrique Gonzalez, a co-chair of the Seattle Community Police Commission who had assailed the selection process when Best was initially passed over, said Tuesday the commission will be pleased to work with her. But Gonzalez said members of the citizen advisory body still want to sit down with Durkan to “figure out exactly how we got here.”
There are “a lot of questions to be answered as to how it happened,” he said.
In a news release, Councilmember M. Lorena González said she will oversee the council’s confirmation process in her role as chair of the public-safety committee, which will take up the nomination July 25.
The council could vote on Best’s nomination as early as Aug. 13, she said. The council will also be asked to vote on Best’s salary if she is confirmed as chief. O’Toole’s salary, when she was hired in 2014, was $250,000 a year.
The chief selection is happening at a critical moment for Seattle, which since 2012 has been subject to a federal consent decree that then-U.S. Attorney Durkan helped obtain, requiring the police department to address excessive force and biased policing.
In January, U.S. District Judge James Robart determined the city to be in compliance with the decree, triggering a two-year review period in which the department must show its reforms are locked in.
The city also is negotiating with SPOG, which represents more than 1,300 officers and sergeants, on a new contract considered key to carrying out police-accountability reforms. The union has been working without a contract since 2014, but it sent an email to its members last week that signaled a breakthrough in negotiations.
SPOG issued a statement Tuesday, thanking Durkan for her decision and praising Best for her work “establishing relationships with the many diverse communities in the city as well as the rank and file officers.”
Reyes, who has built a reputation as an “extremely intelligent” officer, offered his congratulations to Best on Tuesday and wished her the “best of luck.” He said he was thankful for the opportunity to go through his first police-chief selection process.
Frizell, who couldn’t be reached for comment, heads up a downtown precinct, where his campaigns to reduce violent crime have won acclaim and stirred controversy.
Best, hired in 1992, has completed a variety of assignments for the Seattle police, including stints in patrol, school safety, media relations and community outreach.
She also has worked as a patrol supervisor and operations lieutenant and has held command positions in the narcotics unit and the robbery, gangs and fugitives unit.
She briefly served as South Precinct commander before a promotion to assistant chief of criminal investigations. Shortly after O’Toole was appointed by Mayor Ed Murray in 2014, O’Toole named Best her deputy chief.
Known for her warm approach to interacting with community members, Best twice Tuesday sought to lighten the atmosphere inside City Hall.
Taking the podium, she compared the excitement surrounding her nomination to the anticipation of a video of Seattle police officers competing in a lip-sync battle.
Thanking her husband, Larry, for his support throughout her career, Best joked, “My husband often says he’s the other man in my life because I’m married to the job. Now that I’m chief … I’m really married to the job.” Then she burst out laughing.