Council confirms Carmen Best as new Seattle Police chief

Top job comes with community expectations around resolving bad policing practices

Council confirms Carmen Best as new Seattle Police chief

Council confirms Carmen Best as new Seattle Police chief

Editor's Note: Here is a link to a letter sent to Carmen Best by Councilmembers Bruce Harrell and Lorena González that lays out the expectations of her once she assumes command of the Seattle Police Department.

The Seattle City Council unanimously confirmed Carmen Best as the next police chief on Monday, Aug. 13, ending a lengthy search process that previously removed the 26-year SPD veteran from the running.

Best had been serving as interim chief since the beginning of 2018, when former chief Kathleen O’Toole’s resignation took effect; she’d been with the department just three years.

A 25-member search committee was later convened to assess the viable applicants, adding Best to a list of five finalists. Best ended up not being one of three finalists announced on May 25, having been removed through a Competitive Exam.

“It may not have been a slam dunk as I predicted back in January, but we got here, and I think it’s a really good place to be,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold before the Aug. 13 confirmation vote.

Facing pressure from the community, as well as members of the search committee, Mayor Jenny Durkan convinced one finalist, former Pittsburgh police chief Cameron McLay, to pull his name from consideration in order to assume another position within the SPD focused on police reforms.

The Competitive Exam was reconvened, and Best took McLay’s place among the three finalists. Durkan nominated Best as the next police chief on July 17, following a weeklong series of community meetings with the final finalists.

Councilmember Lorena González presided over the confirmation process. Council sent Best a list of questions three days after her nomination, and received 27 pages worth  of responses, she said. Best answered more questions on July 25, followed by a special committee hearing on Aug. 1. González said all testimony was in favor of Best taking the top job at SPD. The new chief received unanimous support at the final committee meeting on Aug. 8.

The council vote was 8-0 on Aug. 14. Rob Johnson was absent, but provided a letter of support.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw thanked Best for the work she’s done, and shared her appreciation for the chief’s focus on community policing.

“When we lost John T. Williams, you were there,” said Councilmember Debora Juarez, “you were there from the beginning.”

Williams was a First Nations woodcarver who was shot and killed while whittling wood on a downtown sidewalk in August 2010, his death resulting in the City of Seattle entering a consent decree with the Department of Justice to address prevalent issues of excessive force and biased policing.

Federal Judge James Robart in January ruled SPD in full and effective compliance with the 2012 consent decree. SPD must sustain those reforms for two years under the second phase of the decree.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant said she wasn’t convinced Best is up to the task of resolving what she considers to be a nationwide systemic problem with institutionalized racism and excessive force, but was voting in the affirmative in solidarity with people of color in the community that asked that she not hinder the confirmation.

Sawant did not vote in favor of O’Toole, which she said was because she didn’t think she could make such fixes, and cited several incidents since O’Toole’s appointment she felt proved her right, including the June 2017 shooting death of Charleena Lyles by Seattle Police.

“I was stunned by the disgraceful appointment process that was carried out under Mayor Durkan,” Sawant said. “Ironically, the mayor’s process of shortlisting candidates itself became an infamous example of the systemic issues faced by black and brown people.”

Sawant called the appointment process undemocratic and racist in its elimination of Best. Minneapolis Police Inspector Eddie Frizell was another finalist for the job, and spoke about what it was like growing up black in The South during a public forum hosted by Not This Time on July 11.

González acknowledged before the final confirmation vote that the Seattle Police Department needs a leader who can address the complex policing history locally and nationally, and thanked the Community Police Commission for making sure people who needed to be “uncomfortable” were.

Council president Bruce Harrell offered Best a few minutes to address a crowd of supporters inside council chambers following the confirmation vote.

“I had no idea how much support I had in the community,” Best said, “and how people who I have worked with over the last 2 1/2 decades really felt strongly about seeing me in this position. I’d especially like to thank the men and women of the Seattle Police Department — sworn and civilian — who really supported me as well, and serve our city every day under very difficult circumstances, and they do a really good job.”

The new police chief acknowledged there would undoubtedly be tough times in the future.

“And during those times I look to us all, all of us, to work together and make sure we’re on the same page in doing what we need to keep the city of Seattle great, and the SPD the wonderful and outstanding department I know it is and will continue to be.”