Police Chief Carmen Best speaking after her nomination was unanimously was approved.
Police Chief Carmen Best speaking after her nomination was unanimously approved. Lester Black

The City Council unanimously voted Monday afternoon to approve Carmen Best as the next permanent police chief of the Seattle Police Department. Best, a 26-year veteran of the department, is the first woman of color to lead the nearly 1,500 Seattle police officers.

Best gave brief remarks to the council chambers, which were packed with both members of the police leadership and people expressing support for protecting The Showbox nightclub.

"I had no idea how much support I had," Best said. "It’s great to be supportive in the good times but we are going to have tough times ahead of us too and during those times I look for us all to work together to make sure we are on the same page."

Best's breezy confirmation by the City Council Monday formed a clear contrast to the turbulence of her nomination process, which saw her go from out of the running to the shoo-in candidate.

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez acknowledged Monday the dramatic nature of the nomination process.

“Chief Best, I know the path and journey through the selection process was not an easy one for you, I’m hoping the confirmation process was a lot easier,” Gonzalez said. "I know that as a woman of color we know what it's like to persevere and to succeed even when the odds are stacked against us."

Best has been the interim police chief since December of last year when then-Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole quit the job. Best, who was the deputy chief before becoming the interim head of the department, was seen as a frontrunner for the permanent police chief position and was included on a list of five finalists pulled together by a 25-member search committee this Spring.

But Best's name was notably absent when a second search committee appointed by Mayor Jenny Durkan selected three finalists from the original list of five. All three finalists were from out of town, something former Councilmember and Mayor Tim Burgess said at the time was seen as necessary for moving the department forward with reforms.

Best's absence immediately drew condemnation from her broad base of support, which stretches from rank and file officers and their police union to police reform advocates like Andre Taylor. The Community Police Commission, a city commission that acts as a citizen voice on police issues, was particularly angry over Best's removal from the finalists list.

Durkan initially defended Best's removal from the finalist list but then news broke on a Saturday in July—first by the Seattle Times' Steve Miletich and later in a late Saturday press release from the mayor's office—that Best was back in the running for the police chief position after one of the other three finalists, former Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay, had withdrawn his name from consideration.

Durkan said at an informal press conference the following Monday, on the federal courthouse steps in downtown Seattle, that she had told McLay that she wanted him to have a job in the department.

"It had been clear that his real passion would prefer to be on the reform side than the chief side and we agreed that would be a good thing and he decided to formally withdraw," Durkan said.

Stephanie Formas, a spokesperson for Durkan's office, said McLay is in Seattle this week meeting with Best and Durkan.

"He has not signed a contract but he’s in town this week to meet with the Mayor and the Chief," Formas said in an e-mail.

The one surprise vote on Monday was when Councilmember Kshama Sawant voted to approve Best, which she made clear was not a vote in support of the American police system.

"My yes vote does not represent a vote of confidence that the fundamental systemic changes will be carried out," Sawant said.

Sawant made it clear that she was unhappy with the way the nomination process played out under Durkan.

"Without the movement's activists standing up and protesting the secretive and racist process which initially sidelined Best, we would be having a very different conversation today," Sawant said.