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Ursula: Seattle Mayor Durkan needs to empower Police Chief Best

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best. (Seattle Channel)

Ever since the downtown rioting and clashes between police and protesters, the calls for Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best’s resignation have been relentless. They’ve only become louder after the recent shootings in the CHOP, the six block area taken over by protesters on Capitol Hill.

Observations from inside Seattle’s CHOP

Normally, the police chief is responsible for what’s gone wrong and should be held accountable. But these are not normal times, and I don’t think Chief Best is primarily to blame.

The buck stops at Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Best has been put in an impossible situation and the mayor is not allowing her to do her job. That was made clear when the East Precinct was abandoned after it was surrounded by angry protesters. The police chief took the unusual step of making a video, addressing her officers, and telling them it was not her call. But now she has the difficult task of getting her officers back in there, peacefully, without a lot of support.

Even though Best wasn’t the mayor’s first or second choice for the position two years ago, the mayor has said she has an excellent working relationship with her. I’m not buying that. Watching what has unfolded in recent weeks gives me the impression that Mayor Durkan still isn’t convinced that Best can handle being the city’s top cop. I’m not alone in my observations.

On the Gee and Ursula Show on Wednesday, former Republican Congressman and King County Sheriff Dave Reichert said Chief Best is the only one who has shown courage in the debacle that is Seattle.

“When she said she didn’t order the evacuation of the precinct, she put her job on the line. Not many people would do that,” Reichert said. “That is leadership. You tell the people the truth, and then you evaluate the situation, and take action.”

But Reichert says, in her case, she has to influence a city council and a mayor who haven’t been supportive of her.

“They’ve taken away all the tools from officers that are less lethal weapons. They’ve left them on the streets with a knife, stick, and a gun. That’s what I had back in 1972 when I was an officer on the street.”

A longtime Seattle police officer who we’re calling “Brett” also joined us on the show Wednesday. He said he cannot recall another mayor who’s been so involved in decisions that should be made by the police chief. I asked him whether the rank and file still has confidence in her. He said these last few weeks have shaken everyone in the department, including the chief.

“We love her and care about her,” Brett said. “This has taken quite a toll on her personally. The chief wants to do the right thing, but there’s a lot of political pressure from the council, the mayor’s office, and the community. She’s trying to make everyone happy, and you can see how much it’s weighing on her.”

Although bashing the police chief is popular right now, I think the anger is misdirected. Mayor Durkan needs to empower the chief so she can do her job. This is a job Best has earned after more than 26 years of working through the ranks of a department she clearly loves. Best understands this is a pivotal moment in history and acknowledges that policing needs to be re-imagined. As Seattle’s first Black female police chief, she is in a unique position to lead that charge in this highly tumultuous period. But she needs the full support of the mayor, first.

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