Carmen Best Nominated As Next Chief of the Seattle Police Department

Carmen Best Nominated As Next Chief of the Seattle Police Department

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By Jenny Durkan

A city’s approach to public safety and criminal justice is one of the most visible expressions of our values.

Seattle is the fastest growing city in America. We have become a big city with big city challenges and opportunities. Every day we ask our police to meet these challenges in a complex and changing environment.

I have spent decades working in and around the Seattle Police Department and our criminal justice system – as a criminal defense attorney, as the chief federal prosecutor in our region, as a community member on multiple blue ribbon panels, as the first citizen observer to the shooting review board and now as Mayor of Seattle.

I wanted to find a chief who understands how to keep our City safe as we grow, build a police force for the new demands on policing, embrace accountability, transparency and reforms under the Consent Decree, and increase community trust in the Seattle Police Department.

More than 60 candidates applied to be our next Chief of Police, and we attracted some of the leading talent from police departments in all parts of the country. More than 3,000 people from all corners of Seattle have been directly involved in the process. Our community has been deeply engaged. Not only did they reach out to me directly, but the interacted with the candidates themselves at over a dozen community meetings. They have made their voice heard on the qualities they want to see in the next chief.

All the candidates spoke at a series of seven community meetings as well as with the Community Police Commission, businesses, and Seattle leaders, including the Federal Monitor. I met and heard feedback from these important meetings. Specifically, I heard from our immigrant and refugee neighbors, families impacted by police shootings, advocates for criminal justice reform, officers at the SPD, former and current law enforcement officials and prosecutors and neighborhood and community voices.

After listening to our community members, studying background information, interviewing candidates, and thinking deeply about the qualities and characteristics that make a great police chief and an exceptional police department, I made my choice. I have no question that Carmen Best is the person to lead our City’s police department as the next Chief of Police.

Last December, I chose Carmen Best for the Interim Chief position because I knew she was the best person for that role. She has a passion for her job, for our officers, and for Seattle. For 26 years, she has risen through the ranks from a patrol officer to Deputy Chief under Kathleen O’Toole and now as Chief of Police.

For everyone who knows Chief Best, they have seen her deliver results. They have seen her lead. They have seen her commitment to public safety, to lasting reform, and to community policing.

In the time she has been Interim Chief, we have worked together and have faced a range of challenges. She has an unparalleled work ethic and a deep understanding of our officers and our neighborhoods.  Whether she is talking to patrol officers or a family facing a tragedy, Seattle could not ask for someone who cares so deeply about the people she’s working with and serving.

Just as importantly, she is committed to the hard work of continued accountability and reform. For years, she has helped implement the reforms required under the Consent Decree, and like so many in Seattle, she knows that the job of reform is not done. She is a person of incredible integrity and committed to doing the right thing.

The other two finalists, Eddie Frizell and Ely Reyes, were both impressive candidates who I believe will likely be police chiefs in the near future. They brought innovative ideas on what Seattle could do better, and we plan to look at their ideas and take what will help us.

The search has confirmed something of which we can all be proud: The Seattle Police Department is considered a leader in the nation. Our officers at the SPD and our community deserve credit on the progress our City has made.

Keeping our Business and Neighborhoods Safe

Every day our officers show up and are committed to making Seattle a safer, better city. Our huge growth brings new challenges for public safety and new demands on policing. We need to build a police force that reflects our growing City, and this means increasing the connections between officers and communities.

Here in Seattle, and across the country, our officers are being asked to do more, especially in responding to people in crisis. We must continue to give them the support and tools to succeed.

In 2016, the SPD responded to about 9,000 people in crisis. Their jobs are harder because our City continues to face insufficient resources from the county, state and federal government for behavioral and mental health. We will continue to work with those partners to focus their efforts on increasing drug treatment and expanding behavioral and mental health programs and to support our efforts to sustain effective diversion programs. We need to have a harm reduction system. And Seattle cannot do this alone.

I’m hopeful we can reach an agreement on a contract between officers and the City. I also want to work with Chief Best to implement a more robust officer wellness program to ensure our officers are receiving the support they need and deserve while doing one of the toughest jobs.

Continuing Accountability and Police Reforms

Chief Best and I have had numerous discussions about reform. She is not just committed to reform – she has helped make it real. We are both committed to not just staying in compliance with the Consent Decree but continuing to improve. We know we need a department that deepens ties with the community, improves response times, and is relentlessly focused on reducing crime in all parts of the city.

Since 2012, Seattle has been under a court-ordered Consent Decree for unconstitutional policing. The reforms required by the Consent Decree have been overseen by the federal court. The reforms created a foundation for an accountable police department that serves the public and enhances public safety in a way that is consistent with our community values and the Constitution. It is also the most effective way to reduce crime.

In January, a federal judge ruled that the City of Seattle in “full and effective compliance,” but the work is not done – not in Seattle and not across our country.

In Seattle, the Consent Decree required significant reforms to be enacted — new use of force policies and trainings that emphasize de-escalation, a new approach to how officers interact with people experiencing a mental crisis, and new supervision and oversight with community involvement.

These changes are showing results, saving lives and rebuilding trust. There has been a decrease in uses of force overall – including a 60 percent reduction of the most serious uses of force – and a significant decline in force used against people in crisis. But trust is fragile and easily undone.

These changes were necessary to improve the police department, and Chief Best has been an instrumental part of implementing many of the recommendations.

Being in full and effective compliance does not mean that we are going to quit improving as a City. I am not satisfied with the status quo, and neither is Chief Best. Both of us want the best police department in the country. That’s what I expect, and that’s what everyone in our great community deserves.

We must acknowledge that racial bias is still part of policing in America, and Seattle is no exception. We know that there are disparate impacts on people of color in our community. Unless we address the root causes of issues relating to racial bias and those disparate impacts, we cannot correct the inequalities in our system. Nor can we call it justice.

Real Community Policing  

As part of the police search process, we heard from thousands of community members. One of the most important qualifications that people wanted was a candidate who demonstrated an ability to build trust and confidence with people across communities in a large city.

Community trust can be earned or lost with every officer interaction. We must constantly analyze whether the service our police department provides meets our community’s standards, and we must continue to evaluate whether our policies, trainings, and oversight practices are working. To do so, we must make sure the community has a voice in that process. Chief Best understands importance of community policing, which is critical to building trust between community and law enforcement.

A priority that we both share is to increase diversity and help ensure our officers reflect the communities they serve.

Since I took office, I’ve been working closely with many of our departments, including the SPD, to ensure our City is focused on building opportunity for our young people while also reducing gun violence.

We will also continue working to ensure our police officers are not immigration officers. Seattle is and will continue to be a Welcoming City. We believe it is possible to prioritize public safety and follow federal law. We won’t let Washington D.C. decide our priorities, and we will continue to stand with our immigrant communities, because that is who we are as a city.

In the coming weeks, the City Council will consider the nomination of Chief Best for the permanent role of Chief of the Seattle Police Department.

Above all, Chief Best has three things that any Chief of Police in Seattle must have: a commitment to public safety, a commitment to the hard work of accountability and reform and a commitment to true community policing.

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