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Controversy erupts over the snubbing of Seattle interim police chief

Interim Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best. (File, Associated Press)

Seattle has only taken an initial step to replace its police chief, and it’s already getting controversial. Interim Police Chief Carmen Best did not make the list of three finalists for the job, and that has sparked outrage from a Seattle community fond of the longtime member of the Seattle Police Department.

RELATED: Should Seattle’s next police chief be from outside the city?

“I completely understand that people are disappointed, for various reasons; that perhaps their candidate didn’t make it through,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said at a Tuesday news conference. “And I love Carmen Best. But I also love the fact that she is a team player and has said to me that her focus is moving forward. I am going to respect that.”

With her history on the force and popularity among the Seattle community, many thought Best would at least make it to the final cut of police chief candidates. Best was on a list of five finalists selected by a police chief search committee. But she was not among the final three that were forwarded to Durkan last week.

“Why not listen to the community that wants her added as a finalist,” KIRO 7 reporter Essex Porter asked Mayor Durkan as she walked away from the mic at the Tuesday news conference. “Why not add her as a finalist?”

Instead of walking away, the question prompted Durkan to turn around and snap back.

“With all due respect, the person that has most say in that is Carmen Best,” Durkan said. “And Carmen Best has said to me that she is ready to move on. She respects the process. She is disappointed, but she respects the process.”

Durkan said that she has spoken with Best about the situation and that they have both agreed she will stay on the force and help the police department move forward.

“Obviously she is disappointed,” Durkan said. “But she says she is moving on and she is focused on how we work together as a city to do the things as she is going to be doing as chief, and I will be doing with her, and she will be doing everything that she can to support the new chief of police get on board.”

Best stepped up as interim police chief on Jan. 1, 2018 after Chief Kathleen O’Toole stepped down. She is the first African-American woman to lead the police department. She has spent 26 years with SPD and was the second-highest in command as O’Toole was reshaping the department while it was under a federal consent decree.

Community for Carmen Best

Another news conference was also held Tuesday at nearly the same time Durkan was speaking. A collection of Carmen Best supporters and members of the police chief selection committee were present. They objected to the process being interrupted by Seattle officials. While five candidates were put forth by the committee, two were cut (including Best) by Mayor Durkan’s office advisers. Former mayor and council member Tim Burgess said Friday that Best was cut because the committee felt someone from outside the department was needed. But committee members said Tuesday that was not true.

“We were all in agreement on the five candidates that went forward,” Lawrence Willis said at the news conference. “We weren’t in agreement on saying that someone be selected from the outside instead of the inside. We weren’t supportive of that.”

Sonny Nguyen, Chinatown-International District public safety coordinator, said that all the five original candidates are good options, including Best.

“To be completely clear, I believe Carmen Best would make an excellent chief of Seattle police,” he said. “But I also believe the same of the three finalists announced Friday.”

Others said that search committee members were given an apology about how the final three were selected, but also, they weren’t interested in an apology. They want the process examined and answers from Durkan.

The police union is among the chorus of disappointment. Police Guild president Kevin Stuckey told KTTH’s Jason Rantz on Tuesday that union members were “extremely disappointed and angered” by the developments.

Stuckey said that comments made by Burgess that SPD needs an outside candidate was a “smack in the face” after all the work officers have done to become compliant with the federal consent decree.

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