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Seattle and beyond react to Chief Best’s retirement announcement

Mayor Jenny Durkan and SPD Chief Carmen Best. (Mayor Durkan, Twitter)

Lawmakers and leaders across the region are responding to an announcement from Chief Carmen Best that she will be retiring, effective September 2.

Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County calls Chief Best’s retirement a loss

Multiple sources confirmed to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show Monday night that Chief Best planned to announce her retirement. An internal memo from Best to SPD staff confirmed her decision, before she made it official during a Tuesday press conference.

Reactions in the time since her announcement have come in from city councilmembers, federal officials, and more.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan:

“Today is a sad day for Seattle in a hard, hard year. For the past 30 years, Chief Best has been one of those leaders that has shown up and shown what she is made of. I will freely admit that I wish she were staying on, and that I asked whether she would.

“I have no doubt that she will continue to lead, fight for what is right, be a voice for equity, and change policing and other systems that have perpetuated inequity. Unfortunately, she will not do it here in Seattle as our Chief of Police.

“It’s an understatement to say that Seattle will never be able to thank Chief Best enough. I thank her for her humor in tough times and her steadiness and willingness to give me and the city her very best.

“Carmen believes in this department. She believes in making it better every step of the way. She knows and understands the many communities in our city. She has visited them at their churches, in their homes and at too many events to count.

“The cause to transform policing and reinvest in communities of color is urgent, the pain is deep and the need for ferocity is real. But the road is long, and the efforts must be sustained.

“And this work will continue. It’s why I am appointing Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz to serve as Interim Chief beginning in September. Chief Diaz has spent his career elevating the voices of young people, and I am grateful for his willingness to meet the challenge.”

Seattle City Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez, Teresa Mosqueda, and Tammy Morales (joint statement):

“Together we want to thank Chief Carmen Best for her dedication to the people of Seattle during her twenty-eight years of public service. Throughout her career, we know that Chief Best overcame tremendous personal and professional barriers to rise through the ranks of the Seattle Police Department to become our Chief of Police. Like many Seattle residents, we are saddened to hear of her sudden departure from the SPD. We understand and respect Chief Best’s decision to step down from her position.

“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.”

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis:

“I want to start by expressing my deep gratitude to Chief Best for nearly thirty years of service to our community.

“While Chief Best and I had some policy disagreements, I am very grateful for the access and resources she granted to the Council during our summer budget deliberations. Budget Director Angela Socci and Dr. Christopher Fisher provided all information requested by the Council and made themselves available to answer questions during long committee hearings. The ability to assemble a strong team is key to the success of any department, and a testament to Chief Best’s leadership.

“That in part is why I was never for cutting the pay of Chief Best and her executive team. Along with Councilmembers Pedersen and Juarez I voted against the pay cut that passed 6-3 on August 5th. I further conveyed this strongly and forcefully on Monday August 10th by offering an amendment to reverse the cut entirely, but my colleagues chose differently.

“Cutting the salaries for people like Angela Socci and Dr. Christopher Fisher who provided the data-driven foundation of the Council’s efforts to fundamentally change public safety does not sit well with me. Cutting the salary of the first black woman to serve as chief to a level below her white predecessor does not sit well with me either. It is clear from the public statements of Chief Best that these pay cuts to her and her team weighed heavily in her decision to leave public service, and it is a significant and sad loss.

“I welcome Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz to his new role as Interim Chief. I look forward to working with Interim Chief Diaz in the coming budget session to collaboratively build on our work to right-size our first response and bring systemic change to our public safety system.”

Seattle City Councilmember Debora Juarez:

“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.

“With Chief Best’s departure imminent, I welcome Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz to his new role as Interim Chief. I look forward to working with Interim Chief Diaz in the coming budget session to collaboratively expand on our work to bring systemic change to our public safety system.”

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce:

Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen

“I am deeply saddened by the resignation of our Police Chief Carmen Best. Chief Best has served Seattle faithfully and honorably for decades and happens to be the first Black woman to serve as our City’s police chief. While a majority of City Council voted on August 5 to cut Carmen Best’s salary, it’s important to note that Councilmembers Juarez, Lewis, and I did NOT vote to cut her salary.

“I did not support suddenly cutting the salary of the first Black police chief in Seattle’s history and the diverse, experienced team that she picked. While I believe we should take a hard look at reducing excessive city government pay during budget deficits, I believe our entire City Council should be more thoughtful and methodical so we avoid unintended consequences.

“There are few leaders better equipped than Carmen Best to help lead the hard negotiations needed to fix the police contract — today’s expensive and unreasonable police contract is among the biggest impediments to revamping and boosting public safety in all communities. I will continue to work collaboratively with our Mayor and other colleagues to seek and implement solutions for Seattle, even though the road today is much more difficult. People deserve to see less sniping and more solutions.”

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold

“As chair of the committee that oversees public safety in Seattle, I want to start by sincerely thanking Chief Best for her 28 years of dedication and service to our City.

“Make no mistake: the Chief’s retirement is a staggering loss to leaders of the Black and Brown community. I remember the 2018 annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, which occurred during another time of uncertainty for the future of her leadership. One official after another spoke, each met with polite applause. That day, Chief Best’s speech received not one, but two, standing ovations. I texted her at the time to say that I didn’t want to jinx her, but that after two standing ovations I believed she had cinched the top job and that I hoped it was the case. The importance of her tenure and achievement as the City’s first Black woman to lead the Seattle Police Department can not be overstated.

“At times of social unrest, police chiefs are often in no-win situations. I’ve seen it before. In the wake of the WTO demonstrations, Police Chief (Norm) Stamper resigned in the absence of clear direction from the Executive or obvious support from the Police Union. The Council, now that we’ve passed a new SPD budget, needs to work with the Chief in order to successfully implement it. If she did so, she could lose the support of the police union, SPOG, which is continuing to move to a more conservative point on the political spectrum. At the same time, if she doesn’t work to make deployment decisions that only she is authorized to make in order to implement the Council’s budget, she will continue to face criticism.

“Any career in policing, at this time in our nation’s history, will involve engagement with a large segment of the public questioning the third rail of local politics: that larger police departments equal better public safety outcomes. Every major city in the nation has a police chief who is learning that leadership means understanding that they may need to figure out how to accept – and get their departments to accept – that the public wants less policing and more community safety.

“Policing at the highest levels in our country has been forever changed by what we’ve observed since George Floyd’s death. We are in an historic time that requires everyone in leadership and service – in Seattle and throughout the country – to question, to learn, and to change. This is especially true for law enforcement, an institution being called upon to reckon with the harm it has done to Black and Brown communities, while accepting the opportunity to embrace fundamental, structural change that will lead to true community safety.

“I am deeply and sincerely sorry that the Chief feels Council’s actions have been disrespectful toward individual officers and that our journey to reimagine community safety has been personally directed at her. As public safety chair, I take responsibility and offer my apology to Chief Best.

“The Council is in a difficult position as well. We have to be able to say when we disagree, and strive for accountability when necessary. We have to be able to ask hard questions about the SPD, and engage in difficult debate about the appropriate role of policing, the SPD budget, and SPD’s recent actions in response to demonstrations against violent policing here in Seattle. After the first weekend of demonstrations, after the Chief addressed the Council, she told me that the Council had disrespected her in questioning her in committee about the actions of the police. Indeed, it is the Council’s job to ask questions. And with Council’s role in appointing a new Chief clearly spelled out in Resolution 31868 re Council confirmation of department directors), any candidate will be subject to the same scrutiny as Chief Best has faced.

“Chief Best deserves our recognition and respect for nearly thirty years of dedication to policing and public safety, duty, and service to the people of Seattle. I am grateful for her service. I am also committed to continuing the work around rebuilding community safety and trust in our City.”

Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss:

“I am saddened by Chief Best’s decision to retire after 28 years of service – this is a tremendous loss for our city. Chief Best was in an impossible position, caught between the Police Union and the Mayor.

“I spoke to Chief Best last month and I reiterated that she could call me at any time. When she came to my district the evening of my town hall, I made sure my staff was with her and I included her officer on my town hall panel. The last thing I said to Chief Best is that she is ‘the best’. I still believe this to be true today.

“The problems of a week ago are now even more difficult because of a loss of leadership. Simply changing who is at the top does not solve the problems we face. When I ran for office I believed that simply expanding the Seattle Police Department was the answer to increasing public safety and reform was working. I believed this until we witnessed days of tear gas used on Seattleites that was excessive and not proportional for the response required. If using military grade weapons on our own residents is the product of nearly a decade of reform work – then we need to reevaluate our approach. I still believe we need to hire more people to provide public safety services to Seattlites.

“I look forward to continuing to listen and work with community leaders, Mayor Durkan, Chief Best, and I want to welcome Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz to his new role as Interim Chief.

“I look forward to collaborating with Interim Chief Diaz on the upcoming budget session to right-size our first response and bring systemic change to our public safety system.”

Washington state Sen. Jim Honeyford:

“My Senate Republican colleagues and I thank Chief Best for her 28 years of dedication and service to the City of Seattle, the people of its communities and the men and women in blue who served under her leadership,” said Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside.

“As a former police officer I am truly saddened, and quite frankly disgusted, by the way the supposedly progressive Seattle City Council treated the city’s first female African-American police chief. At a time when the council professed to want black leaders to stand up and be heard, they silenced and sidelined one of our state’s most prominent black leaders and set out to decimate her department at the whim of political extremists without so much as even consulting with her.

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

United States Attorney General William Barr

“I was disheartened to learn of the resignation of Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best. Her leadership and demonstrated commitment to her oath of office reflected all that is good about America’s law enforcement. In the face of mob violence, she drew the line in the sand and said, “Enough!”, working tirelessly to save lives, protect her officers, and restore stability to Seattle. Her example should be an inspiration to all who respect the rule of law and cherish safety and security in their communities. This experience should be a lesson to state and local leaders about the real costs of irresponsible proposals to defund the police.”

Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now (joint statement):

“The Seattle Police Department has a long and storied history of anti-Black violence. Unfortunately, but rather predictably, this violence did not relent under Police Chief Carmen Best. Racism is built into the very structure of policing. The impossible task of rooting out anti-Black racism from the Seattle Police Department was always too large for any one person.

“Chief Best’s public resignation comes soon after the Seattle City Council’s first votes towards divesting from SPD and investing in a new paradigm that values all Black lives. Our goal has never been to oust Chief Best. Rather, we have organized to draw attention to the limits and false promises of individualized reforms for ending police violence. We know that only deep structural change – not the resignation and replacement of any single person – will protect Black lives and stop racist policing. This fight is about rethinking how we achieve public safety in this city for Black communities, and acknowledging that continuing to pour money into policing will not get us there.

“Our movement will remain centered on the lived experiences and conditions of Black communities. Accordingly, while Black representation in leadership positions is critical and necessary, it must be meaningfully connected to improving the lived experiences and conditions of the Black community.

“We know that anti-racism is not about diversifying the police and lifting up Black women or anyone else to head SPD. We celebrate the movement in defense of Black lives and we recommit to the work ahead to generate safety for all people in Seattle. The Seattle Police Department – and our city’s entire approach to achieving real public safety – requires wholesale structural change. Fortunately, there is a community-driven process under way to address this very issue. We encourage the Mayor and Council to endorse the overwhelmingly-supported BIPOC-led community process towards true public safety for all Seattle residents.”

Former Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver:

“Best chose to be Chief of an institution that has perpetuated racist policies & practices & perpetuated much harm on many communities. Not to mention the violent policing of the recent protests. She could have chose to whistleblow but she protected the status quo. She chose.

“If I had been elected mayor in 2017, I would have been the first womxn in 99 years and the first Black womxn ever. My identity as a Black womxn would not have relieved me of accountability and responsibility for the system of which I would have been executive.

“I would have at every turn had to account publicly for my work & my actions. Working in a racist system is an impossible task for Black peoples AND when we do it we have to be accountable to BIPOC communities. We have to do everything we can to dismantle and disrupt racism.

“BIPOC peoples carry an impossible burden in this system. And yet when we choose to take leadership roles in a white supremacist colonial system, even with good intentions, we must be accountable for our impact. That’s the burden of leadership.”

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