CHIEF NORM STAMPER'S resignation doesn't go into effect until March, but there's already a lot of concern about who will replace him. And it's not just groovy Seattleites who are scared. Seattle police officers are also worried about who's next.

For local WTO demonstrators and the city's liberal populace, there's fear that Stamper will be replaced by someone far more conservative. Stamper may get really low points for how he handled the WTO protests, but many admit the reforms he enacted during his six years at the department's helm were good for the city. The city's community policing plan, Stamper's claim to fame, is held out by liberals as evidence of the chief's strong track record. Now, civil libertarians worry that Seattle may have lost a good thing.

"We really have to be vigilant," says Harriet Walden, founder of Mothers for Police Accountability, an organization that's been monitoring the police department's behavior for the past nine years. "Seattle has an opportunity to move forward instead of going backwards."

While Walden's fear of going "backwards" certainly captures post-WTO conventional wisdom -- that Schell will appoint nothing short of Chief Mussolini -- line officers have a whole different set of worries. In fact, several officers we spoke with in the days immediately after the WTO conference said the embarrassing Richard McIver episode, the TV images of groin-kicking cops, and the tear gas in Capitol Hill will pressure Schell to hire someone even more touchy-feely than Stamper.

"That's what happened in L.A. after the Rodney King riots," says one 10-year SPD officer at the East Precinct. It would certainly be difficult to bring in someone line officers disapprove of more than Stamper. After all, his politically correct Senior Leadership Team (SLT), which tried to make the department more sensitive and inclusive, is derisively referred to by cops as the "Slut" team.

Combine this attitude with line officer outrage about failed leadership during the WTO conference, and the cops probably have more clout than liberal public opinion does.

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