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City chooses three 'outside' contenders for Seattle police chief

Interim Chief Carmen Best (pictured third from the right) was not included among the finalists.
Megan Farmer/KUOW
Interim Chief Carmen Best (pictured third from the right) was not included among the finalists .

Half a year after former Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole stepped down, today Mayor Jenny Durkan's 25-person police chief search committee announced three all-male contenders to replace her. 

Interim Chief Carmen Best, the first black woman to hold the position and one of those vying for the spot, was not included.

Instead, the three named were: Eddie Frizell, inspector with the Minneapolis Police Department and Iraq war veteran; Cameron S. McLay, former Pittsburgh police chief; and Ely Reyes, assistant chief at the Austin Police Department.

Read: Fatal gun violence looks different for Seattle kids, depending on where they live

Best, who was raised in Tacoma and a member of the police department for 26 years, released the following statement on the Seattle Police Department's blotter:

There is no greater honor than to have served as the Chief of the Seattle Police Department, in a city and department that I love. I want to thank the Mayor for the opportunity and have agreed to her request that I continue as Interim Chief until a new Chief is confirmed. I wish the candidates the best – each of them should know how fortunate they will be to lead officers who have a commitment to public safety and reform. We will continue to work to meet our community’s expectations, while leading the way as one of the best departments in the country, with Service, Pride and Dedication.

At a press conference this afternoon, former Seattle City Council president and search committee co-chair Tim Burgess said that half the field of applicants considered by the search committee were people of color. He added that the search committee narrowed that field down to 10 finalists, then invited six for in-depth interviews. Two of the finalists, Burgess said, are people of color.

When asked by a reporter which qualities the finalists had that Interim Chief Best did not, Burgess said that the search committee concluded that someone “from the outside” would be best suited to lead the department. “The needs of the institution in some ways worked against her,” Burgess said, and added that she could remain in the department.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the work that Interim Chief Carmen Best has done and will continue to do as part of the Seattle Police Department,” Mayor Durkan said in a statement. “I have known Chief Best for years and her work has been invaluable to me as Mayor – she has been a strong leader as Interim Chief.”

Durkan’s choice of police chief will be one of the biggest leadership tests she’s faced since assuming office.

The new chief will oversee the final leg of the city’s 2012 court-ordered police reforms, known as the city’s consent decree with the federal government, over biased policing and excessive force.

In January, a federal judge found the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in “full and effective compliance” with the consent decree, launching the next phase of reform. Now the city must remain in compliance with those reforms for two years, while the City Council submits monthly reports starting in July to measure those standards.

But the same federal judge who found SPD in compliance with the consent decree also issued words of warning on the second phase of reform. Some police accountability measures passed into law by the Seattle City Council are now subject to collective bargaining with Seattle’s police officers’ union, a process that could possibly weaken some of the reform legislation.

In his written opinion in January, Judge James Robart warned that if collective bargaining does diminish reforms, the city’s progress would be “imperiled.”

Robart also said that if the city doesn’t keep up with its consent decree, he wouldn’t hesitate to make the city go back and retrace its steps, starting all over on the second phase of the consent decree.