Seattle Police Chief Best: Council hasn’t invited me to the table

Aug 7, 2020, 3:25 PM
SPD Chief Carmen Best, Seattle police...
Chief Carmen Best unveiling a new website detailing SPD's proposed reforms. (Nicole Jennings, KIRO Radio)
(Nicole Jennings, KIRO Radio)

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said she is not opposed to some of the changes the Seattle City Council wants to make to the police department — but added that she has not been invited to sit down with the council to discuss them.

Speaking at a press conference to introduce the police department’s newly revamped website, Best also expressed her opposition to parts of the council’s plan.

On Monday, the council will vote on whether or not to pass a budget proposal that would make cuts to the Seattle Police Department — including to Harbor Patrol, SWAT, School Resource Officers, the Navigation Team, and more — that could potentially result in the loss of 100 SPD employees.

The 13 highest-ranking positions, including Best herself, would also see their salaries cut or capped at the lowest number in their pay band.

This comes after two months of protests calling for the police department to be defunded by 50%. Protesters and councilmembers alike have said that for certain types of calls, such as helping individuals in crisis, social workers and mental health professionals may be better sources of aid than police officers.

“You’re asked to do too much; you’re sent into complex situations that other professionals from our community may be better-equipped to handle,” Councilmember Alex Pedersen said to the Seattle Police Department as a whole during Thursday’s Council Budget Committee meeting. He called this summer a “historic moment” to rethink policing.

Best said she was open to some changes.

“If they want to invest in other avenues, other areas, there’s probably a way forward to do that. I would just love to see the plan to do it. But I haven’t seen that,” Best said. “I’ve seen great ideas, untested theories, great approaches — but what’s the plan?”

She added that having a whole new set of people coming into sensitive situations would also need some type of oversight.

“How are they going to ensure, through a race and social justice lens, that the very people they bring in don’t have their own implicit or explicit biases?” she questioned.

Still, she insisted it’s a discussion she wants to have with the council.

“I’m very open to sitting down with council and having this conversation … but I haven’t been invited,” she said, adding, “Why the first African-American female chief the city has ever had is not brought to the table is worth questioning.”

Best said that she could not help but see this as a snub on the council’s part.

“It definitely feels personal to me,” she said.

Council President Lorena Gonzalez did note Wednesday that during a hour-long phone call with Mayor Durkan, she had “openly invited” the mayor and Chief Best to “a conversation about how we chart a collaborative path forward on delivering this transformational change.”

On Thursday, Best also addressed the pay cuts for top staff positions, questioning whether such an action would even be legal. Her attorney told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show on Friday that Best is considering suing the council over this action.

Best noted that many top staff members are highly qualified, with law degrees and PhDs.

“It is one of the most diverse, well-educated command staffs in the country. And why on Earth, for people who work so very hard, would we ever consider not having the best of the best and compensating them fairly?” she said. “I find that absolutely shocking, and quite frankly, I think it’s punitive and not well thought-out.”

Seattle police officers speak out

Seattle police officers present at the press conference took the opportunity to express their views on the potential staff reductions.

Sergeant Doug Raguso said in his 17 years with the department, he has never seen morale as low.

“The thing that I would hope the city, the residents, and visitors would understand is that we are people behind this uniform. And we don’t — professionally, any of us here — agree with or support these high-profile incidents that have occurred,” he said.

Raguso said he wants people to know that officers come from diverse backgrounds and have themselves experienced discrimination and oppression. He said that he is gay, and that he and his husband — who is a military veteran with disabilities — are adopting two children of color.

“I understand the frustration that the community has, but there are so many of us who are working to remedy this,” he said.

Officer Mia Nguyen said as a relatively new officer, she is afraid she will be laid off.

“Being an Asian female who is part of the LGBTQ community, who came into this job wanting to help be representation for my community, and basically being told by protesters and everyone that I don’t matter, when the whole reason why I got into this job is because I wanted to make a change [is difficult],” Nguyen said.

The council has said that layoffs wouldn’t necessarily have to happen in a last-on-first-off system, noting that many of the youngest recruits are very diverse and reform-minded.

Sergeant John O’Neil, who is Black, said that he got into the force to help bridge the gap between law enforcement and communities of color.

“There’s got to be conversation. We have to be able to talk to one another,” he said. “And each side has to reach out to hear what the other side has to say.”

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Seattle Police Chief Best: Council hasn’t invited me to the table