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Police Critics Among Those Celebrating Seattle Mayor's Police Chief Pick

Will James
Interim Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best with Mayor Jenny Durkan at a City Hall celebration for his selection as permanent chief on July 17, 2018

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's pick for police chief is winning praise from activists who have criticized the department.  

Durkan announced Tuesday her choice is Carmen Best, a 26-year veteran of the police department who has served as interim chief since the start of the year. In choosing Best, the mayor passed over two outside candidates. 

If confirmed by the City Council, Best would be the first African-American woman to lead the Seattle Police.

Supporters gathered at City Hall Tuesday afternoon to congratulate Best. Among those celebrating was Andre Taylor, whose brother, Che Taylor, was shot and killed by Seattle Police officers in 2016.

Taylor fought for and partly won statewide reforms making it easier for police officers to be prosecuted for inappropriate use of deadly force. (The Legislature's adoption of that initiative is currently being challengedin court.)

He said he's glad the mayor chose a chief who knows the city and its struggles. 

"We really couldn’t afford an outsider to come and get caught up," Taylor said. "It could have thrown off the equilibrium of what we’re doing here in our city."

He said Best's long tenure in Seattle and her popularity among community leaders and the police union gives her "an opportunity to lead." 

The Seattle Police Officers' Guild, which represents more than 1,300 city police officers and sergeants, applauded the mayor's choice in a news release.

"Chief Best has come up through the ranks and has dedicated her life to Seattle," union leaders said in the release. "She has devoted so much energy in establishing relationships with the many diverse communities in the city as well as the rank and file officers."

Rev. Harriett Walden, an activist who has called for more oversight of police, cited similar reasons for supporting the chief pick. 

"Local people ought to have an opportunity to move up in the ranks," she said. "If you spend all your time at the police department and you've come up through the ranks and now you're a deputy chief and there's an opportunity, you ought to be able to apply for that with some kind of confidence that you might get the job."

Walden, who founded the group Mothers for Police Accountability, said she hoped the new chief could navigate the city to the end of a court-ordered reform process that began more than five years ago, after a federal investigation found a pattern of biased policing and excessive force.

A federal judge declared the city in "full and effective compliance" this year with reforms mandated by the so-called consent decree, but the deparment must show it can continue to comply for two years. 

Best, in an interview, said activists "can rest assured that I'm going to keep moving forward and working really hard to make sure that we have a police department that provides fair, just, and equitable enforcement."

She said the consent decree provided "a place to start, some real milestones" toward reform. "But once we hit those milestones, we're not stopping," she added.

Best still faces confirmation by the Seattle City Council.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.