Everyone wants to know why Chief Carmen Best is leaving the Seattle Police Department. The announcement came last night in a late-breaking leaked email from Best to the "SPD Family," which apparently includes shock-jock radio host Dori Monson. She made the decision official in a press conference with Mayor Jenny Durkan this morning.
The press conference wasn't meant to be a wake, Durkan and Best joked. Rather, it was a celebration of Best's 28-year career with the department. Best was jovial, and Durkan was tearful, despite the fact that Best didn't even make the Mayor's top-three list when she was seeking former Chief Kathleen O'Toole's replacement two years ago.
Along every stop of the goodbye tour, the two glossed over any of Best's missteps and delivered jab after jab to the city council. The narrative emerging from local television news stations last night also pinned the blame for Best's decision suddenly to retire on the council.
Best—who was all smiles and laughs during the conference, and who, as Seattle Times City Hall reporter Dan Beekman pointed out, seemed to be acting as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders—initially offered a vague reason for her departure: "When it's time, it's time," she said.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best is resigning. Here's the message she just sent to officers, hours after the Seattle City Council voted on cuts to the police department budget. pic.twitter.com/FxUj3UiL9P
— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) August 11, 2020
However, as the press conference wore on—with TV news reporters suggesting that the Seattle City Council "essentially endorses the ACAB [All Cops Are Bastards] chant" and openly wondering what could possibly be living inside their duly elected hearts—Best made it clear she felt the council had targeted her in decisions she called "punitive," and said she was simply unwilling to broach the idea of laying off her officers.
Yesterday, the council finalized their plan to make over $3 million in cuts to SPD's budget. Those cuts included the elimination of around 100 SPD positions through layoffs, attrition, and pay caps on SPD's executive command staff. Their salaries for the remainder of 2020 will now be reduced to the lowest level in their position's pay band. According to the council, their cuts were legal. Durkan and Best asserted that the cuts were not legal.
However, just before the final vote yesterday, Councilmember Lisa Herbold put forward a proposal that would reduce Best's salary cut. Instead of reducing her salary from $289,000 to $172,000, it would instead only be reduced to $275,000.
"This isn't about money," Best said, during the conference, adding that she would have entered a different profession if she cared about making money. (I would like to point you to the above paragraph outlining how much she was making annually.)
But, on top of now-familiar refrains from Durkan about the council moving forward without a plan, and about the council never consulting with Best on SPD cuts, (claims The Stranger has fact-checked), Durkan also alleged that the council had handled the budgeting process not only wrongfully, but disrespectfully.
"They wanted to micromanage and play mini-police chief," Durkan said, "cut here and cut there, do this, do that. It showed a complete lack of respect and frankly a misunderstanding in how the department even operates."
The budget the council passed was merely suggestive. Best, as the department head, would still have had the opportunity to define what got cut and what didn't. Best essentially said she was unwilling to do that since she couldn't "move the needle forward," and because of the "animus" she claimed the council "directed" at her.
"It felt very vindictive and punitive," Best said, "and I don’t want [SPD officers] to be affected by that type of animus."
Best also said she couldn't face the idea of laying off SPD officers, again rested on the narrative that she could only lay off officers based on seniority. In fact, she has the ability to request "out-of-order" layoffs—doing so would just take time and effort. Presumably, Best didn't want to file those requests, because laying off that many officers "goes against against my principles."
The only email that brought tears to Best's eyes, she said, as she pulled up an email she had already printed off to read, was from a Black male officer who was excited to have Best as his chief. Best said solemnly that he would probably get laid off in the council-mandated layoffs.
When Herbold proposed her change to Best's salary cut, she mentioned her fear that cutting the salary of Seattle's first Black woman police chief would create headlines. And indeed, the idea that the council's decision to cut police and command staff salaries was racist and caused the chief's departure has clogged the dialogue in the wake of Best's resignation.
It seems surreal the @SeattleCouncil, which met via ZOOM, on a remote basis...
...could chase off a Police Chief, a Seattle veteran, & a woman of color, who was *in* the streets on near daily basis.
Debate funding. Debate tactics.
You can't debate how surreal that seems.
— Chris Daniels (@ChrisDaniels5) August 11, 2020
On the council side, Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Alex Pedersen are now attempting to distance themselves from the salary cut vote.
"I did not support suddenly cutting the salary of the first Black police chief in Seattle's history and the diverse, experienced team she picked," Pedersen said in a prepared statement. Lewis also did not vote for that amendment, and he made sure the public knew in his statement on Best's resignation.
Police reform advocates say the cuts had nothing to do with Best's race or gender. They were made in a broader effort to scale back and improve SPD.
"The Seattle Police Department has a long and storied history of anti-Black racial violence," said Isaac Joy of King County Equity Now. "Unfortunately, but rather predictably, this violence did not relent under Chief Best. That’s because the task of rooting out anti-Black racism from the Seattle Police Department is too large for any one person."
Decriminalize Seattle's Angelica Chazaro said the fight to defund SPD and to reform public safety has never been about individual officers.
"This is not about 'good apples' or 'bad apples' in SPD," Chazaro said. "It’s about rethinking how we achieve real safety in this city for Black communities, and about acknowledging that continuing to pour money into policing will not get us there."
For now, Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz will serve as the interim police chief for SPD. Best will be enjoying a period of "self reflection."As for Durkan... well, she'll continue to position herself at odds with the council, since it's the only play she has left. The search for a permanent chief is shelved for now because of the budget climate the council has created, the Mayor said.
In a press conference two months ago to the day, Durkan said that she and Best weren't resigning. They had briefly debated having a Thelma and Louise moment, but decided against it. Well, Louise has gone off the cliff, Durkan. Is your Thelma going to follow?