Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole will step down at the end of the year. She’ll hand the police department’s top job to Deputy Chief Carmen Best, who will serve as interim Chief until a nationwide search is complete.
Speaking at a press conference Monday morning, O'Toole said the decision to leave was a difficult one.
"Difficult because I love this city, difficult because I care deeply about the Seattle Police Department and, more than anything, I love being a cop. I've loved every minute of it," O'Toole said. "To me, it's not just a job — it's my vocation, it's my passion."
O'Toole said the decision was a personal one, not a professional one.
"It's no secret that my husband had a lot of challenges earlier in the year with his health, and it's a wakeup call and makes you realize what's really important."
O’Toole said retiring is not an option for her, but she wants to spend more time with her family.
Earlier this year, O'Toole announced she had been nominated for a position in Ireland. The position would oversee Ireland's Commission on the Future of Policing. She said Monday that she’ll continue doing that work.
The Chief is no stranger to Ireland. She worked from 2006 to 2012 for an agency that inspects Ireland's national police force.
Prior to that, she was in charge of the police force in Boston.
The announcement of her departure ends months of speculation about whether the police chief would stay on in her post in Seattle.
O’Toole, who has been chief since 2014, indicated Monday that she’d made her mind up months ago. However, she said she’d decided to stay on slightly longer to help shepherd the city through a time of turmoil.
Newly-minted Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she would have liked O’Toole to stay on under her administration.
“As I made clear during the campaign, I felt that Seattle would benefit if Chief O’Toole was willing to continue to serve at the helm of SPD,” Durkan said. “She has been a very good chief and she has navigated some very difficult waters.”
Durkan said she’ll take the role of choosing a new police chief seriously.
“Appointing a new chief obviously is one of the most important decisions a mayor can make,” Durkan said.
Durkan said she will launch a nationwide search process to find the next chief. She said it’s crucial that whoever fills the role is committed to continuing reforms within SPD.
SPD was placed under a consent decree in 2012 due to issues with excessive force and possible biased policing. The department was ordered to implement reforms.
The city is waiting on a final ruling on whether SPD is in full compliance with the consent decree. But whatever the ruling, Durkan said the city is not done. She said the drive to improve should be continual.
“We will not go backwards on reform, we will continue to push forward,” Durkan said.
The search to replace Chief O’Toole will be led by a search committee, Durkan said.
She chose four co-chairs to head that committee: Jeffrey Robinson, deputy legal director and director of the ACLU Trone Center for Justice and equality; former Mayor Tim Burgess; Sue Rahr, director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission; and Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, a member of the community police commission and a member of KUOW’s board of directors.
Durkan said the search will begin in the new year and she hopes to wrap it up by spring.
Burgess said Monday that the committee needs to find someone who will be as good, or better, than O’Toole.
He said, during her time at the helm, O’Toole was an effective leader who changed the environment at SPD.
“She introduced data analytics like we had never seen before in terms of crime and the police response to crime. She more than tripled the in-service training that police officers receive when they work here in Seattle. She increased accountability,” Burgess said. “I think she changed policing in our city and she began the process of cultural change that we wanted to see.”
Though O’Toole receives a lot of credit for the implementation of reforms, the police department also saw controversy under her leadership. Among other things, SPD has been criticized for the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles by police over the summer.
Police officers say Lyles, an African American mother, brandished knives at them when they responded to a call about a burglary at her home.
The Seattle Times reports that SPD’s force review board has found the shooting in compliance with department policy.
It’s unknown who might replace O’Toole as chief. Deputy Chief Carmen Best, who will serve as Interim Chief starting on January 1, said she intends to apply for the position.