Seattle police chief announces retirement as city council reduces department

Seattle

Carmen Best, city’s first Black police chief, said retirement would be effective 2 September




Carmen Best speaks at a news conference in Seattle, Washington, on 29 June.Photograph: Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

Seattle’s police chief has announced she is stepping down, a move made public the same day the city council approved reducing the department by as many as 100 officers. The council on Monday had approved a reduction in the budget of the police department of less than 1% after months of protests demanding that it divert funds into other services in a defunding program, although the council signaled deeper cuts might be on the way Carmen Best, who was the Seattle‘s first Black police chief, said in a letter to the department that her retirement will be effective 2 September and that the mayor has appointed the deputy chief, Adrian Diaz, as the interim chief, King-TV reported Monday.

“I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times,” Best said in the letter. “You truly are the best police department in the country, and please trust me when I say, the vast majority of people in Seattle support you and appreciate you. … I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of re-envisioning public safety.” In an email to police, Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, said she she accepted Best’s decision “with a very heavy heart”.

“I regret deeply that she concluded that the best way to serve the city and help the department was a change in leadership, in the hope that would change the dynamics to move forward with the city council,” Durkan wrote. The mayor picked Best in July of 2018 to lead the department. She had been serving as interim chief.

A military veteran, Best joined the department in 1992 and had worked in a wide variety of roles, including patrol, media relations, narcotics and operations and deputy chief. Cuts to the department have been supported by demonstrators who have marched in the city following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis but strongly opposed by Durkan and Best. Measures that would cut less than £4m of the department’s £400m annual budget this year passed out of committee unanimously last week.

On Monday, only council member Kshama Sawant voted against the budget package, saying it does not do enough to defund the police. Seattle currently has about 1,400 police officers and the reductions fell far short of the 50% cut to the department that many Black Lives Matter protesters are seeking. Several council members on Monday said the changes were a starting point in a long process to reimagine policing and public safety.

The city council also cut Best’s roughly £285,000 annual salary and the pay of other top police leaders, although the final cuts to Best’s salary were significantly more modest than those initially approved last week. The council plan also takes officers off a team that removes homeless camps. “While we can’t do everything in this summer rebalancing package, we have set the path forward for tremendous work in front of us as a council and as a city,” council member Teresa Mosqueda said.

Durkan and Best had urged the council to slow down its discussions about police budgets, saying the issue could be taken up in earnest when the 2021 city budget is considered. They also said any layoffs would disproportionately target newer officers, often hired from Black and brown communities, and would inevitably lead to lawsuits. In early July, police cleared an occupied autonomous temporary protest zone of several blocks near downtown Seattle known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or Chop, that had emerged organically following a series of fierce clashes between protesters and law enforcement during marches spurred by Floyd’s killing.

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