Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole has announced a long-awaited leadership shakeup, looking outside and within the department for four new assistant chiefs.
“I made a decision early on it would be likely I’d have a hybrid team of insiders and outsiders,” she said while introducing the four Wednesday at a press conference at City Hall. “And you know I think we’ve been able to accomplish some good things in recent months, but we want to bring a greater sense of urgency to it.”
O’Toole said she’s been working on these changes since she was hired, in part because city officials made it clear they expected her to recruit some new leadership for the department as it works to meet a federal consent decree and reform its use of force. But O’Toole also thanked her current assistant chiefs, who will return to the rank of captain.
The union for management-level police officers had opposed hiring assistant chiefs from outside the department, but Mayor Ed Murray said a settlement was reached.
And Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said his union doesn’t have a problem with the outside hires.
“My members don’t care where leaders come from,” Smith said. “They just want some leaders. They will follow people who set the right example and are accessible, and they don’t care where they come from.”
O’Toole has brought aboard two assistant chiefs from outside. One is Robert Merner, who will leave his job at the Boston Police Department as head of the investigations bureau to oversee Seattle’s detectives. Merner said he’d just received a phone call from someone he’d worked with in Boston’s Somali community saying how sorry she is to lose him. “I’m an enforcement guy, but I really realize how important it is to engage the community in prevention and intervention, and nothing gets done unless we all work together,” he said.
O’Toole also hired an official from the city of Yakima, Perry Tarrant, to oversee special operations and homeland security. Tarrant is coordinator of Yakima’s Gang Free Initiative and division of emergency preparedness.
Another new hire is coming from the private sector: Amazon vice president Greg Russell will become the department’s chief information officer, overseeing information technology and the pilot program for body-worn cameras. Russell is from Scotland. He says the world of law enforcement is completely new to him. “My background is actually in manufacturing, so I don’t know much about law enforcement which the chief says is a good thing, so we’ll see!” he said.
Russell said he’ll be shadowing SPD members for the next 30 days and said he’s also doing a lot of research on Washington’s public disclosure law, which law enforcement officials say has resulted in requests for vast troves of video and other records. “My view is, I think we’ve got a lot of data,” Russell said of SPD. “We just haven’t figured out how to make it available to people. So I think one of the things I’m going to have to learn is the difference between privacy and transparency, and that will be part of that first 30 days, to learn that.”
O’Toole also announced two hires from within. Precinct Capt. Steve Wilske, whom O’Toole praised for his calm demeanor and skills at de-escalation, will supervise patrol operations. And Lt. Lesley Cordner will oversee compliance with the federal consent decree.
Smith, the Guild president, called Cordner’s promotion from lieutenant to assistant chief “a bold move,” adding that “she’ll do a great job.”
As O’Toole entered City Hall Wednesday, she ran into a group with the Black Community Impact Alliance and took the opportunity to introduce them to her new leaders. One of members of the group was Dawn Mason, a former state legislator who publicized the arrest of a Seattle man, William Wingate, for carrying a golf club. The arrest caused an outcry, and SPD officials later apologized.
Mason said Wingate’s arrest was “a bad stop” but something good did come out of it. “So we’ve formed a nice relationship with the chief, we have access to her, and it looks like she has a team, we’ll make sure we have access to them,” Mason said.
Seattle’s independent police monitor, Merrick Bobb, also attended the hiring announcement. He said he’ll report back to the federal judge that with these hires, Seattle has taken “a good step forward” toward ultimate compliance with the consent decree.