SEATTLE (AP) — The mayor of Seattle on Tuesday picked interim Police Chief Carmen Best to lead the department on a permanent basis as it tries to sustain reforms designed to eliminate biased policing and unnecessary force.
Best is the first black woman to lead the department, and if confirmed by the City Council, she would replace Kathleen O'Toole, who stepped down at the end of last year.
Best spoke Tuesday of instilling a "culture of continuous improvement" in the department.
"We know the work is not done, not in Seattle and not across our country," she said.
Despite her popularity with officers and community leaders, Best was initially passed over by a search committee that named three finalists from outside the department. After an uproar, Best's name was added when another finalist, former Pittsburgh Chief Cameron McLay, withdrew from consideration.
The other finalists were Ely Reyes, an assistant chief in Austin, Texas, and Eddie Frizell, an inspector with the Minneapolis Police Department. Search committee leaders had said they wanted an outsider to help reforms at the department take hold.
"Chief Carmen Best is the person to lead the police department to the next level," Mayor Jenny Durkan told a news conference announcing the appointment. "She has a passion for the job, for the officers and for our city."
The U.S. Justice Department began investigating Seattle police following a series of questionable uses of force, including the unjustified shooting of a Native American woodcarver in 2010. Seattle agreed to reforms in 2012 after the DOJ found officers were too quick to use force, especially in low-level situations, as well as troubling indications of biased policing.
Since then, the department has overhauled nearly all aspects of its work, including how officers are trained, how and when they use force, and how such episodes are documented and reviewed. The changes have brought a stunning drop in how often officers use serious force — with no increase in crime or officer injuries, according to the court-appointed monitor overseeing the reforms, Merrick Bobb.
A federal judge ruled in January that Seattle police had achieved full compliance with the reforms, which were mandated by a Justice Department consent decree in 2012.
Durkan served as the U.S. attorney in Seattle during the DOJ investigation, and she and Best both said they are committed to ensuring the city sustains and improves upon the reforms even as it grows rapidly, thanks largely to hiring by Amazon and other tech companies.
The department will need to hire more officers as the city deals with that growth, including the complex challenges of homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse.
A military veteran, Best joined the department in 1992 and has worked in a wide variety of roles, including patrol, media relations, narcotics and operations. She served as deputy chief under O'Toole before Durkan picked her to become interim chief last Jan. 1.