The Chief Search

Community Advocates Outraged Over Process, Urge Mayor to Consider Best for Police Chief

Members of the search committee said the hiring process was flawed and want the city to consider all five semifinalists.

By Hayat Norimine May 30, 2018


Friday's announcement of three finalists for Seattle's new police chief has isolated key players in the city's efforts to reform the police agency, creating a divide with community members who supported the interim chief, Carmen Best. 

Members of the search committee on Tuesday said the city misrepresented the selection and left their voices out of the decision to reject Best, denouncing the hiring process as broken and calling for the city to reconsider all five semifinalists. 

"We are very concerned that we are not in a position to select somebody that the community can accept based on a broken process," said Enrique Gonzalez, a member of the search committee and co-chair of the Community Police Commission. Gonzalez also urged the city to further examine its hiring process and said the city doesn't use the racial equity toolkit, which is a citywide program to eliminate policies' potential racial inequality.

The 26-member search committee shortlisted five candidates—including Best—to send to a group of handpicked internal advisors to the mayor. From there, the mayor's evaluators narrowed the list down to three. Tim Burgess, a co-chair of the internal group and former mayor, said on Friday the co-chairs felt they needed an outside hire, and that the decision had less to do with Best personally.

But members of the CPC on Tuesday expressed anger and disappointment that Friday was the first time they heard that the city needed an outside hire and perceived it as a direct slight against Best, who was the only internal candidate. They said the process of narrowing the list down to three hasn't been transparent. Reverend Harriett Walden on Tuesday criticized mayor Jenny Durkan directly for the move.

Unlike city officials, who widely respected former police chief Kathleen O'Toole, community members have mixed feelings about whether O'Toole had been a successful outside hire. Gonzalez said Best, as deputy chief under O'Toole, had been more involved in community than her.

"If you ask folks who were doing a lot of community-based work with youth, with different communities of color, they'll tell you—the person that they talked to is Carmen," Gonzalez said. "It was not Chief O'Toole." 

Ultimately Durkan decides in late June or early July who to hire as Seattle's new police chief. Two of the three finalists are people of color; some also criticized the city for ruling out Best as the only woman in the final five. 

Emails showed outrage over how the press release portrayed the decision on the final three to be supported by the search committee, leaving out the fact that the search committee chose five candidates.

"I want to express my disappointment with the wording of the press release that was issued regarding the selection process," said Jorge Baron, director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and a member of the search committee, adding that there was no reference to the additional step "that did not involve the committee." 

The co-chairs of the internal group apologized on Tuesday. 

"We are sorry that there was misrepresentation of the work," Colleen Echohawk, one of the co-chairs, wrote to the search committee. "It was completely unintentional and a genuine mistake, but it was harmful and dishonoring to this process. We deeply feel the pain that this has caused you all and are dismayed that it has caused us to lose trust in each other and the process." 

The city on Friday narrowed the search down to 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. The other semifinalist who didn't make the cut was Jorge Villegas, assistant chief at the Los Angeles Police Department.

Durkan in a statement said she spoke with Best, who is disappointed but "moving on" and will continue to work with the mayor's office to address the challenges during her remaining time as interim chief. 

“I completely understand people are disappointed for various reasons that perhaps their candidate didn’t make it through," Durkan said. "I love Carmen Best. But I also love the fact that she is a team player and she has said to me that her focus is moving forward. She is going to do everything she can to support the new chief of police." 

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