Seattle, WA — Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1 – West Seattle), Chair of the Public Safety and Human Rights committee, issued the following statement in response to Chief Carmen Best’s announcement that she plans to retire next month:
“As chair of the committee that oversees public safety in Seattle, I want to start by sincerely thanking Chief Best for her 28 years of dedication and service to our City.
“Make no mistake: the Chief’s retirement is a staggering loss to leaders of the Black and Brown community. I remember the 2018 annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, which occurred during another time of uncertainty for the future of her leadership. One official after another spoke, each met with polite applause. That day, Chief Best’s speech received not one, but two, standing ovations. I texted her at the time to say that I didn’t want to jinx her, but that after two standing ovations I believed she had cinched the top job and that I hoped it was the case. The importance of her tenure and achievement as the City’s first Black woman to lead the Seattle Police Department can not be overstated.
“At times of social unrest, police chiefs are often in no-win situations. I’ve seen it before. In the wake of the WTO demonstrations, Police Chief (Norm) Stamper resigned in the absence of clear direction from the Executive or obvious support from the Police Union. The Council, now that we’ve passed a new SPD budget, needs to work with the Chief in order to successfully implement it. If she did so, she could lose the support of the police union, SPOG, which is continuing to move to a more conservative point on the political spectrum. At the same time, if she doesn’t work to make deployment decisions that only she is authorized to make in order to implement the Council’s budget, she will continue to face criticism.
“Any career in policing, at this time in our nation’s history, will involve engagement with a large segment of the public questioning the third rail of local politics: that larger police departments equal better public safety outcomes. Every major city in the nation has a police chief who is learning that leadership means understanding that they may need to figure out how to accept – and get their departments to accept – that the public wants less policing and more community safety.
“Policing at the highest levels in our country has been forever changed by what we’ve observed since George Floyd’s death. We are in an historic time that requires everyone in leadership and service – in Seattle and throughout the country – to question, to learn, and to change. This is especially true for law enforcement, an institution being called upon to reckon with the harm it has done to Black and Brown communities, while accepting the opportunity to embrace fundamental, structural change that will lead to true community safety.
“I am deeply and sincerely sorry that the Chief feels Council’s actions have been disrespectful toward individual officers and that our journey to reimagine community safety has been personally directed at her. As public safety chair, I take responsibility and offer my apology to Chief Best.
“The Council is in a difficult position as well. We have to be able to say when we disagree, and strive for accountability when necessary. We have to be able to ask hard questions about the SPD, and engage in difficult debate about the appropriate role of policing, the SPD budget, and SPD’s recent actions in response to demonstrations against violent policing here in Seattle. After the first weekend of demonstrations, after the Chief addressed the Council, she told me that the Council had disrespected her in questioning her in committee about the actions of the police. Indeed, it is the Council’s job to ask questions. And with Council’s role in appointing a new Chief clearly spelled out in Resolution 31868 re Council confirmation of department directors), any candidate will be subject to the same scrutiny as Chief Best has faced.
“Chief Best deserves our recognition and respect for nearly thirty years of dedication to policing and public safety, duty, and service to the people of Seattle. I am grateful for her service. I am also committed to continuing the work around rebuilding community safety and trust in our City.”