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caption: Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best holds a press briefing after the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone was cleared by Seattle Police Department officers early Wednesday morning, July 1, 2020, at the intersection of 12th Avenue and East Pine Street in Seattle.
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Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best holds a press briefing after the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone was cleared by Seattle Police Department officers early Wednesday morning, July 1, 2020, at the intersection of 12th Avenue and East Pine Street in Seattle.
Credit: Megan Farmer

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best Resigns

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best resigned late Monday, hours after the Seattle City Council took its first major action to cut resources from the city’s police department.

Update: Chief Best and Mayor Durkan discuss resignation and Council

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and Mayor Jenny Durkan held a press conference Tuesday morning after the chief announced she will be retiring from the department on September 2.

Chief Best had an upbeat tone as she thanked community members for their support and officially announced her resignation. Noting that she has served the city of Seattle for nearly three decades, Chief Best said that she has no regrets, and that being police chief was the "dream of a lifetime."

caption: Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best officially announces that she is retiring from the Seattle Police Department, Aug. 11, 2020.
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Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best officially announces that she is retiring from the Seattle Police Department, Aug. 11, 2020.
Credit: Seattle Channel

"I trust that everyone, residents, business owners and elected officials will find a way to work together, to put aside personal conflicts, political grandstanding and power plays," Best said. "Seattle has the best and the brightest. If we work together to overcome these challenges, if we listen to one another, not just those we agree with by the way, if we value experience equally to passion, I know we can create solutions that will carry Seattle through this decade and into the future. "

“I’m sad to leave in some ways, but when it’s time it’s time.”

In contrast to Chief Best, Mayor Durkan spoke through a trembling voice at times, praising the chief's “candor, integrity, and grit.”

“My heart is obviously heavy to lose her, and I will freely admit, that I wish she was staying," Durkan said.

“We are facing unprecedented challenges," she said. "A global pandemic that is getting worse, with no end in sight; an economic crisis that has devastated workers and small businesses and put a spotlight on the deep, deep inequities in our economy; and a civil rights reckoning that has made our nation, our state, and our city confront, acknowledge and truly address the generational harms caused by system racism. It’s been a hard, hard year, and today is a hard day .... I have no doubt that Carmen Best will continue to lead, continue to fight for what is right, continue to be a voice for equity and changing policing and other systems that have perpetuated inequities and racism. It is unfortunate that she will not do it here as our chief of police.”

Mayor Durkan went on to say that Chief Best was uniquely qualified to bring change to the Seattle Police Department -- through her lived experience as a Black woman and as a police officer.

The City Council

Both Mayor Durkan and Chief Best commented on the divide between the City Council and the rest of the city's leadership.

Best also said that the recent salary reduction was not a reason for her resignation. She also said that she feels the Council's actions toward SPD and her have been personal, so she is "stepping out of the way."

When pushed for a reason for her exit, Chief Best read an email from a new Seattle police officer, which read: “Thank you for what you’ve done for me personally and this department. I’ve finally been hired after applying for five years and I was ecstatic that is was under your command. Being an African American male with you as my chief made the fact that I had served my country under the honorable Barack Obama that much sweeter.”

Chief Best said that she recalls meeting the new officer and noted that the Council's recent cuts mean that new hires like him will be laid off. She said “He is one of the people who will probably not keep a job here. And that for me – I’m done. Can’t do it.”

Mayor Durkan further argued that the City Council has not made any cuts to other city departments or leadership as they did with SPD and the chief. She accused the Council of targeting the chief and alluded to the idea that they retaliated against her for opposing their cuts to SPD.

"... it was both infuriating and deeply disappointing that the day after the chief stood in this room and criticized the council's approach and offered her own vision, the very next day they voted to slash her salary and the salaries of her whole team .... they did not cut their own salaries or the salaries of anyone working for the City Council. They targeted only Carmen Best. They targeted the team she has assembled and they did it despite the fact that they know it is not enforceable, it is not legal, and spoiler alert, the charter requires me to honor the contracts and agreements that Chief Best made and I plan to do so."

"But it's not about the money. That was the final straw. It's about respect. It's about listening to someone who is there with some answers and with the lived experience to help Seattle move forward."

Original post: Chief Best resigns

“This was a difficult decision for me,” Best said in an email to Seattle officers, announcing her resignation. “But when it’s time, it’s time.”

Best's last day will be September 2. Deputy Police Chief Adrian Diaz will serve as interim Chief of Police starting in September.

Whether it’s called police reform, defunding the police or re-envisioning policing, protesters and politicians across the country are considering major changes to policing after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by an officer.

RELATED: How to change Seattle policing, according to Chief Carmen Best

Those considerations are also happening in Seattle amid ongoing protests in the street (one demonstration led to Best's home in Snohomish County) as well as action at city hall.

On Monday, the City Council approved a range of reductions to SPD, effectively cutting 100 police officers. Best has argued that the department is already understaffed. The chief's own salary was also trimmed down to roughly $275,000 from just under $300,000.

Council members have also said they intend to make more cuts to SPD in the future. A majority of the City Council supports cutting police department funding by 50%.

Best’s letter to staff was short on her reasons for leaving the department. She said, “I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of re-envisioning public safety. I relish the work that will be done by all of you.”

Read Chief Best's full email, Mayor Jenny Durkan's followup message, as well as reaction from the community below.

caption: Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best attends a vigil to recognize the senseless killing of African American men and women outside of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church on Monday, June 1, 2020, in Seattle
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Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best attends a vigil to recognize the senseless killing of African American men and women outside of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church on Monday, June 1, 2020, in Seattle
Credit: Megan Farmer

On Monday evening, Mayor Jenny Durkan followed up on Best's email with her own to Seattle Police Department staff. She praised Best and provided some insight.

“She led the department through a dramatic reduction in use of force against people in crisis as well as a decreased major crime rate in 2019," Durkan wrote in her email. "In addition, she hired more diverse officers to reflect the community, and in 2019, the department hired its most diverse class in recent memory at 39% people of color.”

"I regret deeply that she concluded that the best way to serve the city and help the department was a change in leadership, in the hope that would change the dynamics to move forward with the City Council."

Since protests over police brutality erupted in May, Best and the Seattle Police Department faced criticism over what protesters argue is excessive use of tear gas and violence against demonstrators. Best also came under scrutiny over how police responded to the takeover of the department’s East Precinct, and also the response to violence in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest Zone.

RELATED: Needing body armor to protest in Seattle violates constitutional rights, lawsuit argues

Best was defended during this time, however, by key members of the Black clergy in Seattle who praised her engagement with the Black community.

Best served in the Seattle Police Department for nearly 30 years and is the city's first female Black police chief.

Community reacts

King County Equity Now is one organization that has called for a 50% defunding of the Seattle Police Department. Following Chief Best's resignation announcement, it released this statement:

Seattle Police Department has a long and storied history of anti-Black racial violence. Unfortunately, but rather predictably, this violence did not relent under Chief Best. That’s because the task of rooting out anti-Black racism from the Seattle Police Department is too large for any one person.

Our concern is first and foremost centered around the lived experiences and conditions of Black communities. Accordingly, while Black representation in leadership positions is critical and necessary, it’s critical and necessary in-so-far as it’s directly connected to enhancing the lived experiences and conditions of the Black community.

In this instance, we know that the Seattle Police Department requires wholesale structural change in order to improve the lived experiences and conditions of the BIPOC communities they are paid to serve. Fortunately, there is a community-driven process underway to address this very issue. We encourage the Mayor and Council to endorse the overwhelmingly supported BIPOC-led community process underway towards true public safety for all Seattle residents.

Ron Sims (former Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and former King County Executive) relayed is dismay of the situation via Twitter. He made his comment shortly after the Council passed cuts to SPD and Best's salary, and as news was breaking that Best was resigning.

The campaign to recall Mayor Jenny Durkan released a statement, arguing that their legal case against the mayor should be concluded before her office selects a new police chief.

The recall campaign also stated: "Similarly to Chief Best, we also have lofty ideas when it comes to reimagining police, primarily envisioning a Department unburdened by her — or Mayor Durkan’s — detrimental involvement."

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Alicia Teel provided the following statement in response to Best's resignation:

“The Seattle City Council chose divisive rhetoric over responsible governance and it cost our city a respected leader. Instead of taking the opportunity to constructively advance meaningful reform with Chief Carmen Best, the first Black woman to lead the Seattle Police Department, Councilmembers doubled down on misleading promises and petty, performative actions."

“Seattle needs its leaders to work together - we are facing a pandemic, reckoning with systemic racism, and going through an economic downturn that has already erased over $300 million from the city's budget. It's time for the Council to refocus their energy on solving the problems we face today, instead of generating new ones.”

State Sen. Jim Honeyford

While not a local official, State Senator Jim Honeyford (R - Sunnyside) released a statement on Best's resignation, saying he was "quite frankly disgusted" by the situation in Seattle.

“I have never seen another police chief treated in such a disrespectful and spiteful manner.”

Honeyford says he intends to introduce a resolution to the state senate in January to formally honor and thank Chief Best.

Chief Carmen Best's email to officers

To the Women and Men of the Seattle Police Department – I wanted to notify you that I will be retiring from the Seattle Police Department, effective September 2nd, 2020. I wanted you to hear this from me, but some media have reached this conclusion on their own. This was a difficult decision for me, but when it’s time, it’s time. I want to thank Mayor Durkan for her continuous support through good times and tough times.

I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times. You truly are the best police department in the country, and please trust me when I say, the vast majority of people in Seattle support you and appreciate you. I am impressed daily at your skill, your compassion, and your dedication. I am thankful my command team has agreed to continue serving the department, and that Mayor Durkan has appointed Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz as the interim Chief of Police. Chief Diaz shares my commitment to this department and has the trust of the community. I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of re-envisioning public safety. I relish the work that will be done by all of you.

After more than 28 years, I am so thankful for the time I spent at SPD. You are my family. You will always be in my heart. We have had tough times before and come out better on the other side. I am glad I pushed through each of those tough times with you. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served as your Chief. Remember to take care of one another. Thank you Carmen Best

Chief of Police

Mayor Jenny Durkan's email

To the members of the Seattle Police Department,

I wanted to follow up on the Chief’s note announcing her retirement from the Seattle Police Department. Know that while I understand the Chief’s reasons, I accepted her decision with a very heavy heart. I have had the privilege to be with Chief Carmen Best in so many situations: with her family, at roll calls, in community meetings, and in nearly weekly meetings addressing public safety in Seattle. Her grit, grace and integrity have inspired me and made our city better. These last months, I knew Chief Best was the person to lead our city through this challenging time, to reimagine policing and community safety. Her leadership is unmatched nationwide, which is why it is a sad day for our City to lose her.

Carmen Best is still devoted to this department and our city. I regret deeply that she concluded that the best way to serve the city and help the department was a change in leadership, in the hope that would change the dynamics to move forward with the City Council.

For almost 30 years, Chief Carmen Best has worked to serve and protect the people of Seattle. She rose through the ranks during a time when doing so was unprecedented and extraordinary for a woman – particularly a Black woman. She defied institutional barriers and always sought to lift others up along the way. Over the course of her career on the force, she established herself as a respected national leader in community-based policing.

She demands the best from each of you, and has always fought to get you the resources needed to deliver. Like me, she believes in continuous improvement and knows that it is the choices and interactions of every individual officer and employee of SPD that determine the culture and reputation of the Seattle Police Department.

I have known the Chief for many years and worked with her when I was the Citizen Observer to the FRB, on various oversight committees when she was PIO, and while I was U.S. Attorney. But it ( sic) her work as Chief that has really distinguished her nationally.

As Chief, she led the way on community policing. She implemented the Collaborative Policing Bureau and oversaw the relaunch of the City’s Community Service Officers. She regularly met with community members and worked to advance a customer service approach to policing. She led the department toward a dramatic reduction in use of force against people in crisis as well as a decreased major crime rate in 2019. In addition, she hired more diverse officers to reflect the community, and in 2019, the department hired its most diverse class in recent memory at 39 percent people of color. I have asked Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz to assume the role of Interim Chief in September. I am confident that Deputy Chief Diaz will succeed in his new role as Interim Chief. Serving nearly two decades in the department, he has led the innovative Collaborative Policing Bureau, and he will work with community members and officers to protect community safety and reimagine policing in Seattle.

We are living through one of the most uncertain and historic times in our City’s history. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and the most challenging economic times. We also must rethink our approach to community safety and to invest more deeply in communities of color. The City, like its businesses and residents, is facing tough economic times. We also are at a moment when we must acknowledge the disparate generational impacts of policing on Black people and other communities of color. Chief Best and I had begun the work of rethinking our approach to community safety, and to invest more deeply in communities of color. That work must and will continue.

I know that this necessary public debate is personal for you, and that it affects not just your jobs. It impacts your families and the pride you have in serving the public. I also know it seems like the real strides SPD has made in recent years are going unrecognized. I talk to Chief Best every day, many times in the middle of the night when significant incidents occur. I know how hard you are working and all you are doing in each part of this city to serve the residents and businesses of Seattle. I believe your work and dedication is probably more important than it has ever been, and agree with Chief Best that the city needs and supports you. I also believe SPD will not just make it through these challenges but will come through as a stronger and better organization which continues to lead the nation.

We are fortunate that Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz was ready to step into the job and he will ensure SPD remains committed to continuing Chief Best’s vision to build a police department that is centered around true community policing.

Thanks for all you’re doing for the people of Seattle.

Sincerely,

Jenny