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Seattle Mayor Says Reform Efforts Must Be Top Priority In Search For New Police Chief

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan with outgoing Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole and Carmen Best, left, who will serve as interim chief.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says the Seattle Police Department will continue its reform efforts, even as a search is launched for a new Police Chief. Chief Kathleen O’Toole announced she’s stepping down and will leave by the end of the month. For more than five years, the Seattle Police Department has been under a federal court order, called a consent decree, to improve. The order followed a U.S. Justice Department investigation that showed a pattern of biased policing and excessive use of force.

At the time, there had been several high profile incidents involving Seattle Police including the killing of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams. When O’Toole was hired as police chief in 2014, her main job was to institute reforms.

At a news conference to announce her resignation, she said she’s proud of what she’s been able to accomplish.

“Productivity is up and use of force is down significantly. All the numbers are trending in the right direction. I think the cops really care and they’ve embraced reform,” O’Toole said.

She says she’s leaving for personal, not professional reasons citing her husband's recent health problems.

New Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who had wanted O'Toole to stay on, praised her work. As U.S. Attorney, Durkan signed the consent decree and has worked with O'Toole.

Durkan says in hiring a new police chief, it's important that the city stay on track to meet the consent decree.

“Whoever is the next Chief  is going to have a very large task of making sure that we continue reforms, that we stay in compliance and that we continue to improve as a police department,” Durkan said.

But, the department has continued to draw charges of biased policing and excessive use of force. The police killings of Che Taylor in 2016 and Charleena Lyles in June, both African Americans, prompted community-wide protests. And a federal judge has yet to release the city from federal oversight.

O’Toole and Durkan acknowledge there have been difficulties on the road to reform.

"We know from recent events that there are more reforms that need to be made and there’s more trust that needs to be built with the community,” Durkan said.

Durkan says even after the consent decree reform requirements are met, the department will be expected to go beyond those requirements to be the "greatest police department in the country."

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.