Seattle reacts to Chief Carmen Best's exit from the police department
Chief Carmen Best will leave the Seattle Police Department on Sept. 2, after nearly 30 years of service in the city. She is the city's first Black female police chief.
Her decision to leave comes as a shock, both to some of her longtime supporters and sharpest critics. It also comes amid high tensions between the City Council, city leaders, and ongoing protests for racial justice.
Best's departure is either welcomed or regretted, depending on who you ask. Some point to the City Council's recent actions as prompting Chief Best's exit. Others argue that SPD's systemic problems were not solved under the chief's leadership.
Below is a roundup of what Seattle officials and community members had to say.
The Reverend Harriet Walden is a founder of Mothers For Police Accountability.
"Chief Best was absolutely disrespected and treated in a way that no other police chief had ever been treated," Rev. Walden said. "I've been through eight (police chiefs) since 1990 and there's never been a police chief treated like Carmen Best by the City Council. It was anti-blackness at the top of the apex."
Walden says she believes the actions from the Council were personal toward Chief Best.
"It's been 52 years that we've always had a Black person on the City Council, starting with the great Sam Smith," Walden said, noting the current absence of a Black voice on the Council. "And this is what happens. It's absolutely disrespectful that she was never invited in to bring her budget. And the charter gives her the responsibility of running the police department. To set the wages for the command staff. Not the City Council or the mayor."
Victoria Beach chairs the African American Community Advisory Council in Seattle. She told KUOW that police need leaders like Chief Best who have relationships in Seattle's Black communities.
"I felt like somebody hit me in the stomach,” Beach said, about hearing of Best's departure. “I just, I couldn't believe it and I was so sad."
"She's from the community and she could relate to us,” she said. “She's one of us."
Beach said that the City Council played a role in Best’s exit and argued that the Council would have worked with a white police chief.
“They would not have treated a white man or white woman the way they have treated her. There's no way. No way."
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.
Reverend Aaron Williams said that Best is "a leader who has her finger on the pulse of the community, so she will be greatly missed."
Rev. Williams has known and worked with Carmen Best for 12 years. Williams is a pastor of discipleship at University Presbyterian Church, the vice president of United Black Clergy, and co-chair of Seattle's Community Police Commission which was set up in 2013 to listen to, and build common ground between communities affected by policing in Seattle. He has also been on the past two search committees for Seattle's police chief.
“This is a very sad day in the city of Seattle," Williams told KUOW's Ross Reynolds. "Chief Best is a shining light of leadership in Seattle and across the country. I’ve known her to be a bridge builder, always connecting people.”
Rev. Williams also laid some blame on the City Council for Best's exit from SPD, specifically their actions that could lead to layoffs of the department's newest recruits, which are promoted as the most diverse in the city's history.
"All I can say is that the actions can speak or themselves. If you look at her situation, for her to be singled out, for her salary to be cut .... they are going to be on the wrong side of history because they've led this process to the point where Chief Best had to retire. This is a historic wrong that has been done. This is the first African American police chief (of Seattle). And this group will be noted as a city council that was on the wrong side of history in pushing her out. So, yes, I'm very disappointed in the City Council, in the strong arm approach they've taken as it relates to police reform. Police reform is a collective effort."
"As co-chair of the CPC, we work with a group of people in the city as well as the community to bring about police reform and Chief Best was one of those individuals who worked very collaboratively with us."
Aaron Williams on Chief Best's departure
For a look at community reaction to Chief Best’s departure, Ross Reynolds also spoke to Reverend Aaron Williams, co-chair of the Seattle Community Police Commission.
Councilmember Dan Strauss is on the Seattle's Council. He told KUOW's Ross Reynolds that he is sad to see Chief Best leave.
"No matter who is in charge, it doesn't change the problems that we are facing and we have a lot of work to do ahead of us. We passed a pretty narrowly-tailored budget reduction yesterday that allowed her to make some tough choices, and there is some tough work ahead of us."
The Council has been criticized by Mayor Jenny Durkan for cutting the chief's salary, and the salaries of her command staff, but not cutting any pay from any other city departments.
"The chief's pay was not cut," Strauss argues. "The Council did not vote to cut her pay. That was changed before the final vote. Her executive team has been amazing. They are fantastic. They have been working with Council throughout the entire budget deliberation process."
"What I want to focus on, is I haven't seen protests occurring daily for the last two months discussing any other departments in the city of Seattle. When we at City Council were looking at reducing (full-time employees) in the Seattle Police Department, we wanted to make sure that those changes were made throughout the command staff. So an important distinction in that change to command staff salary is that the chief and the mayor still have the opportunity to make those reductions from other places; it does not have to come from command staff. The view is that if we are making cuts to the department, we are also going to have to look at the entire chain of command."
Councilmember Dan Strauss
In a press conference today, both Chief Carmen Best and Mayor Jenny Durkan slammed the city council’s budget line edits for “playing mini police chief.” City Councilmember Dan Strauss addressed those accusations.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold told KUOW that she initially hoped the rumors of Chief Best's retirement were not true. She said she was shocked and disappointed that the chief is leaving.
"One of the things that I have been reflecting on is the similarities to WTO and when then Chief Norm Stamper stood down. Times during social upheaval are really difficult for police chiefs ... when you have community members asking for significant changes to the status quo and then you have the need to keep support within your police union. And you are put in a position where there is a lot of push and pull."
Herbold said that when she realized that salary reductions to the chief and command staff would mean that Chief Best would be the second-lowest paid department head, she decided to walk that back with an amendment.
"On Monday, I said I was wrong. I made a mistake."
Through a statement, Councilmember Debora Juarez praised Chief Best and chided city leadership, including her own Council, for prompting the chief's departure.
I was disheartened to hear of Chief Best’s resignation. She has dedicated nearly thirty years of service to the people of Seattle, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. We have a better police department and a better city because of her. Our friendship spans decades, as we’ve both engaged with criminal justice at times from different corners of the courtroom: myself as a public defender and Chief Best as a police officer. We didn’t always agree, but what remained constant was our mutual respect and commitment to each other’s humanity. Her friendship and partnership are one-of-a-kind, and I will miss her steady hand as she led her department through turmoil.
Her willingness to invest in a new Strategic Advisor around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) casework showed responsive leadership as she followed the lead of the Native community in addressing this epidemic. This is just one of many effective reforms she has spearheaded during her two years as chief- mandating body cameras, increasing the diversity of the force, and creating the Community Policing Bureau. Chief Best exemplifies true leadership.
Her departure is a direct consequence of the lack of collaboration among leaders in the city in the face of calls for systemic change from the community. Chief Best’s resignation is a wake-up call for the Council and the Mayor’s office that we must work cooperatively to re-envision public safety. It’s also a reminder to the public that their actions have consequences too. Harassment and intimidation are not social justice tools. Let’s refocus our energy and remember where the real opposition lies.
I voted against the amendment on August 5th, which passed 6-3, docking the pay of Chief Best and other command staff members. I did so because I believed in Chief Best, her talent, her grit, and her ingenuity, to weather the storm and shepherd our city to calmer waters. It’s time we find a way to work together, put aside grandstanding, listen, and value each other’s experiences and intentions.
Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez, Teresa Mosqueda, and Tammy Morales released a joint statement thanking Chief Best for her "dedication to the people of Seattle" and said they are "saddened to hear of her sudden departure from SPD" but that they "understand and respect" her decision.
On Monday, the City Council took short-term emergency budget actions to address the economic crises and we took initial steps towards establishing a long-term budget planning process in response to calls for transforming our public safety model.
The Council will remain focused on the need to begin the process of transforming community safety in our City. This historic opportunity to transition the SPD from reform to transformation will continue.
The work to transform public safety will require leaders from across our city to work together collaboratively and transparently over the coming months. We look forward to working with community leaders, Mayor Durkan, Chief Best and Interim Chief Diaz on building a new community-based public safety model together.
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 Seattle 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 Mayor Jenny Durkan spoke Tuesday, arguing that the Council had targeted the chief and command staff.
"... 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."
Read more about Mayor Durkan's statements here.
"...I sensed this bit of grief for the fact that it's really hard, as one person, to make that kind of change. That story could represent some of the change that society has promised us, that happens when we have representation, but also that it's not enough, that her being chief isn't enough."
"I hope people will look at the big picture, right? I hope people will look at the fact that this is an inherently racist system; that no matter who you swap out, if you're still policing in the same way, if you're still funding problematic systems within the same way, and not changing the way that you police communities, and approach this relationship between the state and the people, then you're going to continue to have these problems."
Read Hanchard's full interview here.
King County Executive Dow Constantine told KUOW's Ross Reynolds that Best's retirement is "tough" and that it was a "sad day for the city of Seattle."
Constantine said amid ongoing protests, "she was put in a pretty much impossible situation, trying to respond to the need to protect life, the need to protect homeowners, protect businesses and property, and the need to respond to a very changing set of expectations in society of what policing and community safety broadly is going to be."
"I don't think this is going to hasten the reinvention of policing," he said. "I think this is going to slow down reform work. But I can certainly see why she personally would have had enough and decided to let somebody else take a turn at it."
Constantine did not comment specifically on the City Council's actions that took place less than a day before Chief Best's announcement.
"But I will say that posing and posturing is very much in vogue these days," he said. "And there is an awful lot of reward, particularly in the era of social media ... of staking out untenable positions and doing outrageous things and not much reward for doing the slow diligent work that creates real change in institutions and community."
King County Executive Dow Constantine 8.11
When asked about Carmen Best’s departure, County Executive Dow Constantine emphasized that putting in the messy work toward change doesn’t always move on a timeline that satisfies activists. He spoke about Chief Best’s legacy, and about how the county is doing on COVID testing and treatment.
Ron Sims (former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and former King County Executive) relayed his 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.
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Alicia Teel provided the following statement in response to Chief 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.”
While Sen. Jim Honeyford is not a local official, the Republican from Sunnyside, Wash. 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 said he intends to introduce a resolution to the state senate in January to formally honor and thank Chief Best.