If confirmed Monday, Best will become the first African American to serve as permanent Seattle police chief, a milestone overshadowed by the turmoil over her candidacy.
The Seattle City Council’s public-safety committee voted 3 to 0 on Wednesday to confirm Interim Police Chief Carmen Best as the city’s permanent police chief, clearing the way for the full nine-member council to vote on her nomination Monday.
Committee Chair M. Lorena González and Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Rob Johnson cast their votes after the committee completed its questioning of Best, who previously appeared before the committee July 25 and spoke at an Aug. 1 public hearing hosted by the committee.
Best, a 26-year veteran of the department nominated by Mayor Jenny Durkan, has enjoyed overwhelming support from community activists and others during the confirmation process. The full council is expected to confirm Best.
Until Durkan appointed her to serve as interim chief beginning Jan. 1, Best served as deputy chief under Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who departed at the end of the year.
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Her smooth advancement through the confirmation process stood in contrast to the rocky road that preceded her nomination. She wasn’t included on the initial list of three finalists announced in May, sparking community outrage, then was added in July when one candidate withdrew and, in a remarkable turn of events, Best became the favorite.
If confirmed Monday, Best will become the first African American to serve as permanent Seattle police chief, a milestone overshadowed amid the turmoil over her candidacy.
Best pledged during Wednesday’s meeting to provide “fair and equitable” police service as part of the department’s efforts to deal with discriminatory policing and institutional bias.
“It can’t be us versus them,” Best said.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who attended the committee meeting but left before the vote, pressed Best on her support from the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, saying the union has been an obstacle to serious reform.
Best responded that there will always be a “professional tension” between police management and the guild, but that it was important to maintain a “conversation” with the union.
Sawant also asked Best to answer yes or no, with any explanation, on whether there are systematic problems in the department with biased policing and excessive force.
Best called it a complex issue, noting that a federal judge in January found the department in compliance with a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department requiring reforms to address biased policing and excessive force. The department is now seeking to sustain the finding during a two-year review period and still has work to do, she said.
Overall, Best said, there is no place for racism in the department.
Sawant, who asked to meet individually this week with Best, was the only council member who voted against the confirmation of O’Toole, who was approved 8 to 1 in 2014.
The socialist City Council member, who said she was speaking on behalf of working people, cited concern over O’Toole’s stated intention of running the department like an efficient business, saying businesses are not accountable to people.
Sawant also expressed doubts that O’Toole would make the bold changes needed to address police abuses and crime problems.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Best said she was gratified by all the support she has received.
That was particularly on display at the Aug. 1 public hearing, where a parade of speakers voiced their support for Best’s nomination, citing her experience, community ties, commitment to diversity and her contributions to the department’s implementation of the federally mandated reforms.
Pat Hayes, a retired Seattle police officer who served as Best’s first supervisor, recalled Best as a “sharp, bright, conscientious” officer from the beginning who wanted to bridge gaps with the community from the beginning.
“This is nothing new,” she said. “This is who she is.”