There's been plenty of speculation about whether Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole would stay on the job for the Durkan administration. Today we got an answer. Mayor Durkan's office announced early this morning that O'Toole would be stepping down on December 31.
Deputy Chief Carmen Best will serve as Interim Police Chief starting on January 1. She will be the first Black woman to hold the position.
When Best assumes the role, she will oversee the remaining piece of Seattle's police reform process. Earlier this year, the Seattle Police Department, Department of Justice, and Community Police Commission agreed that SPD was in compliance with its consent decree with the federal government, established to correct biased policing and excessive force. But in order for the consent decree to go away, a federal judge must agree—and then the department must stay in compliance for two years.
The leadership change also comes at a critical time for the city's enormous police reform legislation. After the Seattle City Council passed its historic reform package back in May, its details became subject to the contract negotiation process with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. City Council Member Lorena Gonzàlez has expressed hope that these negotiations will wrap up before the end of the year, but it remains to be seen how much of the legislation will remain intact.
Well before Durkan took office, rumors swirled about the possibility of O'Toole leaving and taking a full-time position in Ireland, where she is set to lead a commission reviewing police practices there. Irish press reported back in May that it "understood that O’Toole is finishing up her position in Seattle before taking up the role as head of the Garda root-and-branch review."
Still, O'Toole insisted at the time that she would hold onto her job here while serving overseas.
The announcement today also sets up what is sure to be one of the most early significant decisions for Mayor Durkan, who has the power to nominate O'Toole's permanent replacement. We'll find out more at an 11 a.m. press conference.