It feels a bit like an alternate universe when both super-lefty city council member Nick Licata and the comparatively conservative Seattle Chamber of Commerce send out statements at the same time celebrating the same mayoral appointee.
But that's exactly what happened after Mayor Ed Murray announced his nominee to head the Seattle Police Department—former Boston police commissioner and the former chief police inspector of the Irish national police ("There isn't a tougher department to reform," Murray noted), Kathleen O'Toole.
Six city council members, in fact, were present when Murray made his announcement—held, appropriately enough, in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at City Hall, named after Seattle's first (and only) female mayor. O'Toole will be the city's first female police chief. Among them: Public safety committee chair Bruce Harrell, who called her a "superstar rock star."
Compare that to the tumultuous search for a police chief under Murray's predecessor, Mike McGinn, in which one contender dropped out, leaving McGinn with two choices, including then-interim Police Chief John Diaz, who ultimately got the appointment and served through four dispriting years. During Diaz's tenure: Woodcarver John T. Williams was killed by police and the SPD was put under a consent decree by the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
At the press conference announcing O'Toole's nomination this morning (two other candidates from smaller cities, Mesa, AZ and Elk Grove, CA, were also under consideration), Murray—who said "all three finalists could easily have been police chief of Seattle," but that he had the best "rapport" with O'Toole—added, "The one thing that I know that works for us is that she’s a talker and I’m a talker. It could be an Irish thing."
Murray added that O'Toole was "straightforward and willing to share information, and that’s been the most difficult thing since the election—to get people [at SPD] to share with me what’s going on. I’ve found the department to be quite opaque. I want a chief who’s going to be very, very clear with me about what she may think is wrong with the department."
O'Toole (who does seem to have a tendency toward corporate-y clichés, like "We're going to try to get a clean slate" [with the police officers' union, which has a reputation for blocking police reform] and "Policing is not a job, it's a vocation" [after being asked about her commitment to public disclosure and transparey]), said she'd have four priorities as police chief: Restoring public trust, restoring officers' pride in the department, reducing and preventing crime ("We need to have a plan for every neighborhood in the city"), and bringing "strong business practices to SPD," including updated technology.
O'Toole, who also joked that she'd been wearing sunglasses and participating in the "witness protection program" for the past few days leading up to the announcement (a joke that did not sit well with the activist who asked the transparency question) said she expects "it may take take three years" to meet the demands set up by the DOJ decree, which came in response to a DOJ report that found evidence of excessive force and potential racially biased policing at SPD.
Asked if she plans to implement any policies that would make it easier for cops to live in Seattle, O'Toole said she "is going to live in Seattle, because I think that sends an important message." Also, she said, "I've always been a city girl." That doesn't, of course, answer the underlying question—how can cities pay cops enough to afford to actually live in the cities they police? If her nomination goes through, O'Toole will make around $250,000—far more, of course, than a rookie officer, whose starting wage is around $69,000 a year.
We'll have more on O'Toole and her nomination later this afternoon.
The council will hold its first hearing on O'Toole's confirmation on June 4, and plans to wrap up the process by June 30.