SPD's O'Toole to step down

Deputy Chief Carmen Best will take over Jan. 1 in interim role

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole says her decision to step down from her post at the end of the year was a personal, and not professional one, which she made prior to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s run for office.

“I think my anticipated departure hasn’t been much of a secret,” O’Toole said during a Monday news conference where the mayor made several other announcements regarding city administration. O’Toole’s last day will be Dec. 31.

Durkan said she would have preferred if O’Toole had stayed on as police chief, citing her involvement over the past three years in restructuring the department, creating a new policing culture and navigating police reforms required under a 2012 Department of Justice consent decree.

“She did that with great leadership, always committed every day to the public safety of the people of Seattle,” the mayor said.

O’Toole and Durkan said they are confident that U.S. District Judge James Robart will use all of the facts available to decide whether the Seattle Police Department is in compliance with court-ordered mandates regarding excessive force and biased policing, which was the impetus for the consent decree.

The Department of Justice, city and federal monitor Merrick Bobb now believe compliance has been met, but Robart in late November asked for more information regarding the June 18 fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles before making a decision, according to the Seattle Times.

The mayor said regardless of the judge’s decision, work on police reform and accountability will continue.

“We as a city will continue to push and evaluate on where we are on reform,” Durkan said.

O’Toole cited her husband Dan O’Toole’s health challenges at the beginning of 2017 among her reasons for stepping down; her husband is also a former Boston Police officer. 

She was the first female police chief in Boston history, taking the position in 2004, and then left in 2006 to become the first Chief Inspector of the Garda Inspectorate in Ireland. Former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray appointed O’Toole as police chief in 2014.

O’Toole said she will continue to chair the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which was an appointment she accepted after Murray announced he would not be seeking reelection; that was due to numerous allegations of child sex abuse when he was in his 30s that later resulted in his resignation. 

“I’ve gone to Ireland from time to time to chair that commission,” O’Toole said, adding that work should be completed within the next six to eight months.

Taking over as police chief in the interim is Deputy Chief Carmen Best, who has worked for the SPD since 1992 and oversees the Patrol Operations, Criminal Investigations, Special Operations Bureau, and the Community Outreach section.

“It means the world to me to take the helm starting Jan. 1,” she said, adding one of her goals as chief will be to continue building community trust and collaborating on equality and justice. Best also confirmed she will be applying to take the position permanently. 

Durkan said she wants to have a new police chief in place by spring, and that the search will begin in earnest at the start of 2018. A selection committee is expected to be formed within the next two weeks, the mayor said, announcing her four co-chairs: Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director and the director of the ACLU Trone Center for Justice and Equality; Tim Burgess, who took on the role of mayor after Murray’s resignation and formerly chaired the city council’s public safety committee; Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, a member of the Community Police Commission and also a member of Durkan’s transition team; and former King County sheriff Sue Rahr, who now heads up the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

The mayor said she expects to have at least four public meetings to gain community insight into what will be expected from the next Seattle police chief.

“We want to make sure that we have the best police force in the country,” Durkan said.

While Emergency Management director Barb Graff, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins and Seattle Public Utilities CEO Mami Hara are staying in their positions, Durkan used Monday’s news conference to also announce the resignation of Seattle City Light CEO and general manager Larry Weis, who is being replaced by Chief Compliance Officer Jim Baggs in the interim.

Weis has faced criticism for being the highest-paid city employee, taking in a salary of $340,000 when his hiring was approved by the city council in March 2016. He then requested, but was denied a bonus of nearly $30,000 this year. There is also the management of the utility department itself that has come under scrutiny. Crosscut recently published a finding that City Light has a backlog of more than 12,000 households in need of updated account records, with some tenants being billed for services at residences where they are no longer living.

Durkan called Weis’ resignation a mutual decision, citing ongoing challenges that include billing and City Light’s workforce environment, but declining to get into specifics. The mayor said a national search will also take place to find a new City Light CEO, but declined to get into specifics about what kind of salary would come with the position.

“I’m going to tell you that if we pay a certain range, we expect a certain level of performance,” she said.

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