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National Search Underway For
A New Seattle Top Cop
As Kathleen O'Toole decides to step down

December 05, 2017

Outgoing Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole
Chronicle staff

(SEATTLE, WA.) -- Kathleen O'Toole, an internationally recognized top tier command executive in the field of modern policing did not have an easy job to roll into three and half years ago when she started her gig as Seattle's Police Chief.

What she jumped into was the kind of gritty job guaranteed to keep her pulled in 27 different directions every day, popping enough Tums tabs to kill a horse and enough critics and entrenched self-interested saboteurs to shut down a new Broadway show over night.

In many ways, a thankless grind of a cement mixer. A muddy mine field salted with broken glass to navigate through. Kind of job that turns strong men weak and babbling gibberish at the moon and tough women prayin' to Jesus for guidance.

O'Toole was the point-woman charged with changing what many of the SPD's hardest critics might, in their kinder moments, call an out of control, kick-ass, punch/shoot first cowboy mentality CYA occupying-army-in-blue that got itself into such hot water with the Dept. of Justice over excessive force issues, it needed too sign a consent decree with that same DOJ to radically change its culture, command structure, practices and accountability under the gaze of the DOJ which watches and monitors its progress and actions to this day.

In other words, the SPD still has a federal watchdog looking over its shoulder to make sure all the changes that needed to be made at the SPD stay on track and stick. A parole officer, sort of, that the SPD has to report to.

The Seattle Police Dept. is currently awaiting a ruling by a federal judge on whether to grant its request to find it in full compliance with that consent decree.

You could say, in a manner of speaking, the SPD would like the judge to grant it a pardon or at worst a parole with less of a parole officer to answer to.

In a statement issued Monday Chief O'Toole said, "As you now know, I’ve made the very difficult decision to step down, effective December 31. It’s difficult because I love this City. I care deeply about the Seattle Police Department, and more than anything, I love being a police officer...it's my vocation, my passion. Even on the most challenging days, I’ve loved my job."

"My anticipated departure has been no secret. Several months ago, in my own mind, I determined it was the right time to move on, personally and professionally. I was then convinced to stay a bit longer to maintain stability during a challenging time for all of us. When Mayor Durkan was elected, it made the ultimate decision even more difficult – no doubt the most agonizing of my career. The Mayor has my utmost respect because I know she cares deeply about our community and understands policing."

Durkan, now the city's Mayor was, back when O'Toole came to town, the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington who was, "One of the architects of the systems that have now placed SPD at the national forefront in police reform and accountability," said O'Toole. "We are all very fortunate to have an extraordinary Mayor who will work everyday to make this city a better and safer place...in the end, this decision was more personal than professional for me. While I have no notion of retirement – it’s not a concept I could ever imagine – I am looking forward to spending more time with my husband, Dan."

At a news conference Monday O'Toole said, " “It’s no secret that my husband had a lot of challenges early in the year with his health. And it’s a wake-up call and it makes you realize what’s really important.”

O'Toole also said she wants to spend time with her daughter Meghan exploring the Pacific Northwest.

Deputy Chief Carmen Best, who's been with the SPD since 1992 will serve as interim chief starting January 1st. Best will also have her ring in the hat (or is it hat in the ring?) for the Police Chief gig.

New mayor Durkan will kick into gear a nationwide search for a new Police Chief led by a committee of four people (dare we say a "hand picked blue ribbon panel"?) which includes a former Seattle news reporter turned one-time, long ago Seattle cop Tim Burgess.

Burgess spent many years on the city council and was acting mayor for a time after the tumultuous recent departure of former Mayor Ed Murray who left his job in a cloud of accusations, never proven, about sexual misconduct with young men in his past.

The current US Attorney for Washington's Western District Annette L. Hayes issued a statement about O'Toole's departure. She called O'Toole, "A true partner in progress on police reform and a leader in advancing innovative approaches to public safety in Seattle, and by her example, around the country. I am grateful for her professionalism, wisdom, and friendship."

Hayes said that under O'Toole's leadership the Seattle Police Department transformed how it served the City of Seattle by implementing new policies, training and accountability around uses of force, crisis intervention, and biased policing.

"Chief O’Toole guided the department during this transformational period, set clear expectations and high standards for every officer, and built strong relationships with the many communities and neighborhoods that the Department serves," said Hayes. " She also demonstrated clearly that civil rights reform goes hand-in-hand with increased public and officer safety."



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