Mayor Jenny Durkan is preparing for her next four years in office and still making key decisions over the city's key players. Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole, however, won't be a part of that equation.
At a press conference Monday, O'Toole in an emotional speech said the decision to leave was "the most agonizing decision" of her career after Durkan got elected, but that it was a personal rather than professional decision. She referenced her husband's health struggles and said it was "a wake-up and it makes you realize what's really important."
"Needless to say this has been a very, very difficult decision for me—difficult because I love this city, difficult because I care deeply about the Seattle Police Department," O'Toole said. "It's been my passion. Even on the most challenging days, I've loved every minute of it."
She had decided several months earlier, O'Toole said, that she would leave. But she said she convinced herself to stay longer to maintain stability as the city went through tough transitions (from Murray's resignation, to a revolving door in the executive office). It became harder to leave for her when Durkan was elected; she and Durkan had a good working relationship since Durkan was U.S. attorney during the consent decree.
O'Toole's last day will be December 31, and deputy chief Carmen Best will be the interim police chief until Durkan appoints the next successor of the state's largest police agency.
Best said she intended to apply for the job, and she could be a natural selection—deputy chief since 2014, she's been an SPD employee for decades. She's also a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and National Latino Police Officers Association, and she's well-liked among some of the most outspoken police reform activists in a city that's grappled with concerns over racial bias.
Durkan said the city would conduct a nationwide search for the new police chief with a committee that would be led by four co-chairs: former mayor Tim Burgess, Chief Seattle Club director and Community Police Commission member Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi, former King County sheriff Sue Rahr, and ACLU Trone Center for Justice and Equality director Jeffery Robinson.
Former mayor Ed Murray in 2014 chose O'Toole as his police chief as the city struggled with police reform, as the U.S. Department of Justice's settlement agreement with the city over its excessive use of force and police bias had been struck in 2012.
Durkan, before as a candidate and after she got elected mayor, has said she wanted O'Toole to remain in her position. The question of whether O'Toole would stick around for Durkan's administration lingered after the election, but O'Toole hasn't addressed her next plans until now.
"I've said before that I wish she would stay," Durkan told PubliCola shortly after November 7 election results. "I think that she's been a good chief of police and that it's an important time for reform."
Inside city hall and nationwide, O'Toole has been praised as a key player in the city's efforts for better police accountability, like new crisis intervention and de-escalation training. When she started, she ended the practice of only promoting internally for assistant chiefs and hired from the outside. But community organizers, especially after Charleena Lyles's death, have been critical of her role and lack of participation in a community forum on the University of Washington campus.
Updated 1:35pm on December 4, 2017, to include the press conference.