Carmen Best wasn't supposed to be our next police chief. When the mayor announced the three finalists for the position in May, Best's name was notably absent.
On the list was a police chief from Minneapolis, one from Austin, and one from Baltimore. But Best, a 26-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department and the current interim chief, had not made it to the final round.
That caused an uproar. The city's Community Police Commission called for postponing the nomination process until the mayor's office could explain why Best was excluded from the list of finalists. The Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG), a union representing most of SPD's cops, called Best's absence "biased and discriminatory."
Then it all changed.
News broke on July 7 that, after some changes, Best was suddenly back in the running and officially a finalist. A week later, Mayor Jenny Durkan tapped Best to be the next chief of police.
It was like those animated hydroplane races at the Mariners games where the red boat disappears for the second half of the race and you think the green boat is going to win, but then the red boat makes a stunning last-minute entrance on the back of a killer whale and wins the race.
Best has deep roots in Seattle. She grew up in Tacoma, graduated from Seattle's Lincoln High School, and has an apartment in Ballard, although she told The Stranger in an interview: "I am going to move a little closer to downtown because the commute to Ballard actually takes a little longer than I had expected."
The allies she has made in her 26 years on the force include community activists like Andre Taylor, whose brother was shot and killed by police in 2016 and who is trying to change the department. He told me Best was "the best fit for the city."
"I don't think we were in a position to have an outsider come in and get them caught up with what's going on," Taylor said.
Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association and a member of the Community Police Commission, said Best has both a commitment to police reforms and a deep knowledge of how to make those reforms a reality.
"Rarely is there a piece of news that is unqualified good news, and this [nomination] is one of those, this is absolutely the right choice," Daugaard said. "There are many insiders that I wouldn't have said that about, but the way she takes advantage of coming up in the ranks is she has a comprehensive understanding of who's who and what's going on in that department."
That insider status is what got Best knocked off the finalists list in the first place. Tim Burgess, the former city council member and interim mayor, told reporters that the finalists selection committee was specifically looking for an outsider to help further reforms at the police department. So it was no accident that the committee Burgess was sitting on ended up with three finalists from departments across the country.
Best is not just an insider in the police reform community. She also has support from the police union that has historically pushed back against reforms within the department. Kevin Stuckey, president of SPOG, said he was "extremely disappointed and angered" by the original announcement that Best had not been named a finalist.
Stuckey declined to be interviewed for this story—his union has a fractured relationship with The Stranger—but community activists like Taylor don't seem to be worried that Best's support from the rank and file will get in the way of her maintaining police reforms in the department.
"I believe that because she is so likable on both ends of the spectrum, it is an opportunity to bring leadership to the city," Taylor said.
Best said she is prepared for the police union to not always agree with her decisions.
"I think we have to work with SPOG to help reform efforts. There's always a professional tension, but even with that, we have to find ways to make things happen to make it better for everybody," Best told me.
She supports requiring SPD officers to wear body cameras, something former mayor Ed Murray mandated police officers do in 2017 but was subsequently blocked by the police union.
"I am a big supporter of body cameras," Best said. "Research has shown that it causes people to trust situations better. Behavior on both the police side and the people being contacted is better when there are body cameras on. They are not a panacea, they don't tell the whole story all the time, but it's one more tool to help us really know what is occurring."
And Best has already taken actions that aren't likely to make the police union happy. She fired two police officers last week after they broke department policy and opened fire on a suspected stolen vehicle in 2017. The city's civilian oversight body, the Office of Police Accountability, had recommended the firing.
During our interview, I also asked what she would say are the biggest changes she's seen in policing over her nearly three decades on the force. "Policing has evolved not only nationally but certainly locally," Best said. "Supervisors now spend more time looking at reports, use of force, crisis intervention. We weren't doing that in the same way 26 years ago. Even the fact that we are carrying Naloxone [a drug used to reverse opioid overdose] now and administering lifesaving efforts in the field—that wasn't happening. That wouldn't have been something that I would have thought we would be doing, but we are doing it because we are engaged in a much more holistic effort in the community."
The city council is now deliberating over the nomination, but all signs point to Best being the next police chief of Seattle.
If she is confirmed by the council, then not only will our mayor be a woman, but so will our police chief and our county sheriff. It's about time.