The Chief Search

Carmen Best Won't Be Seattle's New Police Chief. Here Are the Choices.

The interim police chief's institutional knowledge ultimately worked against her.

By Hayat Norimine May 25, 2018

With Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan noticeably absent from the press conference on the same floor of her office, Seattle's search committee on Friday afternoon announced the top three finalists for the new police chief following Kathleen O'Toole's resignation. And it won't be Carmen Best. 

Instead, Seattle will bring in an outsider to lead the state's largest police agency. The choices: Eddie Frizell, an inspector at the Minneapolis Police Department; Cameron McLay, former Pittsburgh police chief; and Ely Reyes, assistant chief at the Austin Police Department. Two of the three candidates are people of color. 

Though Best was in the top five, she didn't make the cut by the mayor's evaluators. She's currently interim chief and had been deputy police chief under O'Toole. 

Best was known as the obvious choice to take over the police department at a time when Seattle is still trying repair some of the community distrust that has long been festering. She's been serving SPD for decades, well-respected among police reform activists and her law enforcement colleagues alike. She's also a woman of color, a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and National Latino Police Officers Association, who could have taken the helm of a police department that's grappled with concerns over racial bias. 

At the same time, being the obvious choice also ultimately worked against her. Tim Burgess, former mayor and a member of the search committee, said the needs of the department as an institution favored an external candidate. Burgess told PubliCola that one concern had been the risk of backsliding from progress made within the police department in the past few years. 

"I think that those three all demonstrated to me the importance of cultural reform, understood...the inherent difficulty of changing the culture of an institution like a police department," he said. "It's really hard, hard work. And I just reached the conclusion, as did my co-chairs, that someone who did not grow up in the culture of our police department would be better to advance the change we desire." 

Best took over as interim chief on January 1 after O'Toole's leave and had announced her candidacy for the permanent position in December.

The 25-member Police Search Committee chose the five semi-finalists, which included Best. From there, an internal group evaluating the candidates from the mayor's office narrowed the pool down to three.

Durkan will make the final decision on who will be Seattle's new police chief estimated late June or early July. In a statement Durkan said the next chief will need to be committed to public safety, accountability and diversity at the agency, and lasting reform. The process led to tough decisions, she said, and thanked Best for her leadership. 

"I am very disappointed," Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association and a commission on the Community Police Commission, told PubliCola. "It's very significant that virtually all the community leaders who have worked to improve policing are united in support of Chief Best. I think this process somehow lost track of the importance of that." 

In a statement sent to reporters, Best said she wished the candidates the best.

"Each of them should know how fortunate they will be to lead officers who have a commitment to public safety and reform,” Best said.

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