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Community members outraged over Seattle's police chief selection process

Carmen Best, interim police chief of Seattle
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
Carmen Best, interim police chief of Seattle.

Community members and activists, some belonging to Mayor Jenny Durkan's own police chief selection committee, are calling for an overhaul of the city's process in choosing a new police chief. 

Many expressed outrage following the city's announcement on Friday of three finalists for the role, none of whom included Interim Police Chief Carmen Best, the first black woman in the position.

All three finalists are male and from outside the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

Best's supporters are calling for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to reconsider the list of finalists and put a more transparent selection process in place.

“The process itself has not been an honest process, it has been a broken process, and we are very concerned that we are not in a position to select somebody that the community can accept based on a broken process,” Enrique Gonzalez, a co-chair of the Community Police Commission and a member of the police chief search committee, said at a press conference and protest on Tuesday.

[asset-audio[{"description": "KUOW's Kim Malcolm talks with search committee member Enrique Gonzalez about why he feels disrespected by the process to select Seattle's next police chief.", "fid": "145041", "uri": "public://201805/NEWS_20180530_ENRIQUEGONZALEZ_0.mp3"}]]The 25-person search committee selected a list of five candidates, including Best, which was whittled down to the final three by the time of Friday's press conference. Some committee members have said that they were unsure what process was used to cut the list down to three finalists.

Gonzalez said he wants the entire hiring process to be re-considered.

He is pushing for Durkan to consider all five candidates originally advanced by the search committee.

“For me, this is a litmus test for the Mayor,"  Gonzalez said. "If she’s going to listen to community members I hope that she’ll take into account that we’re asking her to do the right thing. That we’re asking her to take some leadership and fix a process that is not working."

At Tuesday's protest over the police chief selection process, several community members said they felt Best should hold the position of police chief.

Reverend Harriett Walden is a co-chair of the Community Police Commission and a civil rights leader in Seattle.

Speaking in her capacity as a member of the group Mothers for Police Accountability, she said she’s disappointed that Durkan would ignore Best's candidacy.  

“We took 97 some years to get a female mayor and the first thing she does is crush another female,” Walden said.

In a statement, Durkan said she knows the next chief of police will be extraordinary. She also said that she understands some people are disappointed that their candidate wasn't chosen, but that she's spoken to Best.

"She has told me that obviously, she’s disappointed, but she says she is moving on, and she is focused on how we work together as a city to do the things she’s going to be doing as Interim Chief, and I will be doing with her as Mayor," Durkan said.

At the event announcing the three finalists on Friday, search committee co-chair and former mayor Tim Burgess said an outside candidate would be best to lead the SPD. 

Whoever is chosen to head the department will take up the mantle of continuing court-ordered reforms over excessive use of force and biased policing.

This post has been updated. An earlier version stated that Mayor Durkan had not responded to a request for comment.

Year started with KUOW: 2015