Mayor Durkan during a press conference announcing former police chief Kathleen OTooles retirement.
Mayor Durkan during a press conference announcing former police chief Kathleen O'Toole's retirement. SH

The Community Police Commission (CPC) is raising concerns over the way Mayor Jenny Durkan has conducted her search for a new police chief.

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The public civilian watchdog group is ringing the alarm with little time to spare. Mayor Jenny Durkan's appointed search committee plans to announce three finalists for the position today at 2:30 p.m.

The CPC says Durkan's process for narrowing the pool of candidates from five finalists to three differs from how previous administrations selected the city's top cop, and gives too much power to the administration to eliminate candidates.

Seattle’s City Charter calls for the mayor to pick her police chief from among the "three highest ranking candidates in a competitive examination” conducted under her direction. In past administrations, an appointed search committee conducted the examination of candidates and offered three finalists for the mayor to select from.

That’s what happened when former Mayor Ed Murray selected Kathleen O’Toole as police chief. That’s also what happened when former Mayor Mike McGinn selected John Diaz.

Durkan’s search committee picked five finalists. To narrow that list to three, Durkan assembled a group of “assessors” to evaluate the five picks based on answers to a written test, background checks, and input from a search committee, according to an article by Seattle Times police reporter Steve Miletich.

Durkan’s assessors are comprised of four administration officials that include former Senior Deputy Mayor Michael Fong, the mayor’s legal counsel, Ian Warner, Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan, and public safety advisor Barney Melekian. Former King County Executive Ron Sims is the fifth.

In a statement, the CPC criticized Durkan’s process as non-transparent because the assessors were not known to the public until Miletich, citing an unnamed source, reported their names.

"When we found out that the search committee’s five recommendations could be narrowed by an exam that was going to be scored by a group of unknown assessors, it definitely got our attention,” CPC co-chairs Reverent Harriett Walden, Isaac Ruiz, and Enrique Gonzalez wrote in a statement.

The statement continues: "Now we are also concerned that an exclusive committee of insiders that hasn’t been in dialogue with the community and was only named by the Seattle Times is making the most important substantive cut of the candidates the committee recommended, outside any public view.”

The CPC also raised questions about Durkan’s use of a written examination to evaluate the five candidates.

"How were they chosen? What points of view do they bring with them? What criteria are they applying? Does the scoring of some written exam correlate with the skills needed to lead the police department?” the statement read. "We’re also mindful that the construction and scoring of written exam can be a place where implicit bias plays out in hiring."

Former Mayor McGinn said in a phone interview that his process did not include a written exam. He said that advisors told him that in previous administrations the “examination” required by the city charter was fulfilled by an appointed search committee.

"People answered questions and were interviewed and evaluated but the idea that there was a written exam with a score, I’m not aware of that happening in recent history,” McGinn said.

According to emails seen by The Stranger, the CPC began asking questions about the process on May 22 after being contacted by Miletich regarding the search process. The group asked Ian Warner, the mayor’s legal counsel, to clarify who created the examination, how it was scored, and whether it was evaluated using the city’s official racial equity toolkit.

Warner responded that Durkan’s appointed search committee played a “critical role in the search process.”

He added explained that the competitive exam used by Durkan’s administration to narrow down the police chief candidates to three includes "the nomination of candidates from the selection committee; the recommendations from the selection committee and its co-chairs, information gathered during the recruitment and selection processes, and written responses to examination questions.” (Warner's full email to the CPC is posted at the bottom of this article.)

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Durkan sent The Stranger the same email Warner sent the CPC.

Yesterday, the CPC sent Durkan’s office a letter with additional questions about the process.

Durkan announced that her administration would begin searching for a new police chief after Kathleen O’Toole announced her retirement in December. Former deputy chief Carmen Best has been serving as chief in the interim. She is one of the five finalists, Miletich reported.

The mayor announced her 25-member selection committee on December 22. It is co-chaired by former city council member Tim Burgess, former King County Sheriff Sue Rawr, Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk, and ACLU deputy legal director Jeffery Robinson. Two members of the CPC, including co-chair Gonzalez and Rev. Aaron Williams, also serve on the committee.

Read Warner's full email to the CPC, which is dated May 24:

The selection process for the Chief of Police includes a Competitive Exam as required by Seattle’s City Charter (Section 2 and 3, Article 6). The Competitive Exam is a part of the Mayor’s selection process and includes: the nomination of candidates from the selection committee; the recommendations from the selection committee and its co-chairs, information gathered during the recruitment and selection processes, and written responses to examination questions.

As part of our planning process SDHR consulted with the Law Department who researched the Competitive Exam for the Police Chief going back to the 1950’s. The Competitive Exam typically has not employed a ranking or rating system and has been scored pass/fail. All records from the competitive examination are public and the Charter requires those records be released at least seven days prior to the confirmation of the final candidate selected by the Mayor.

The current Competitive Exam includes three questions developed by SDHR and the Mayor. The questions reflect input received during the community engagement process regarding the selection of the Police Chief.

The Police Search Committee, comprised of a broad range of community leaders, including many with extensive and unique experience in criminal justice reform and policing, have played a critical role in the search process. The Police Search Committee has identified and interviewed several applicants who best meet the requirements laid out by the community, and the recommendations of the Search Committee will be presented to the assessors by the Search Committee Co-Chairs.

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The panel of assessors selected by the Mayor represent diverse experiences and perspectives and possess expert-level knowledge of policing, the Seattle Police Department, government operations, the Seattle community and the Mayor’s policy priorities and values. We will continue to seek to minimize the impact of bias in the selection process by encouraging participants to be aware of their personal biases and encouraged discussion as to how bias may impact the assessment of a candidate during deliberations.

All records related to the exam (exam material, participant names, and participant applicant material) will be filed with the City Clerk at the time the City Council considers the Mayor’s appointment.

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