11:13 AM: One day after the City Council finalized budget cuts for Seattle Police, as a “first step” toward a dramatic change in public-safety delivery, there’s a big change that wasn’t in their legislation: Chief Carmen Best is leaving, two years after her promotion. Right now she and Mayor Jenny Durkan are holding a media briefing to discuss her plan to depart, and SPD’s future – you can click into Seattle Channel‘s livestream here (update: replaced with archived video):
We’ll add notes as it goes.
(Note – the video feed seems to be lagging so we’re taking notes from a listen line.) “When you know it’s time to go, it’s time to go,” opens Best, saying she “has no regrets. .. I love this department, I love this city,” and she tells her staff they will “always be in her heart.” She says she is “grateful” to Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz for agreeing to serve as interim chief, and declares him “more than ready” for the role. She says she has an “ask for the community” – “find a way to work together to put aside” personal & political conflict to “create solutions” for the city’s future. Her tone is very upbeat as she thanks a variety of supporters and co-workers, including department heads who are at the event. “I’m sorry to leave in some ways” – and she turns the mic over to the mayor.
Durkan begins with her voice cracking with emotion. “We’re facing an unprecedented crisis” – from the pandemic to systemic racism. “It’s been a hard, hard year, and today’s a hard, hard day.” She hails Best’s leadership and says she’s certain she’ll be leading elsewhere: “I wish she was staying.” Durkan says she and Best have had “many conversations” in recent weeks about her desire to retire. “Losing her is a deep loss for our city.” She says Best has dramatically diversified both the department and its leadership team. She says Best would have been “the right person to reimagine policing in this city” and says “deep conversation with community” was already under way, as were changes including collaborative policing and the return of Community Service Officers. After much touting of Best’s attributes, Durkan turns to recent events – ” “in the midst of disagreement, I hope we can find common ground” and then says she is “mystif(ied)” that the council didn’t consult Best. She assails the council for voting to cut Best’s salary, and no other department heads. “My message to the city council is and has always been, I remain willing to work with you.” But she also says she’ll uphold contracts; and she says transformation is “hard, painful work … the road is long.” She adds, “Council, if you want to go far, we have to go together.”
11:34 AM: Now she is talking about Deputy Chief Diaz: “I am certain he will continue this hard work.” He then takes the microphone, first with words of appreciation for the departing chief. “Our department has had some hard times” in his years, but this is “the most challenging,” he says, then insisting the department is committed to reform. The department already has “the nation’s most robust accountability” system, he says. But “we know much more is demanded of us” and he promises “we’re listening to you.”
11:41 AM: Now Q&A. Would Best work with the council now if they asked? She says now it’s up to Chief Diaz. Was there a last straw? She said she was disappointed not to see “a plan going forward,” and then reads a gratitude email from a recently hired Black officer, then saying she would likely have to lay him off under the council’s plan, subsequently saying: “Can’t do it.” She then says the council’s decisions show a “lack of respect for the officers.” In response to another question, she says their vote to cut her pay and that of her command staff seemed “vindictive” and “personal,” so maybe departing “will help the city and department move forward.” In response to another question, she says again that she doesn’t want to have to lay people off. And also, in terms of “political grandstanding,” she says, “I’m done with that.”
The mayor says she does not plan to launch a search for a permanent police chief this year: “What job would they be applying for?” A short time later, she also notes that the “unpredictable” budget climate would likely make it impossible to attract a good candidate.
12 PM: The mayor also gets in a dig at the council by noting none of them called to ask about the officers injured in protests that turned violent. … The chief says she was particularly “offended” that the council would “even consider” cutting her command staff’s salaries (a move she also called “illegal”). The mayor then accused the council of playing “mini-police chief” in trying to micro-manage the SPD budget. They could and should have given the chief a number to meet in cuts, and to let her decide how.
How will Chief Diaz try to work with the council as the 2021 budget process gets under way? He says he looks forward to them contacting him. The mayor, meantime, has said multiple times that she wants to hear from “all of Seattle” in crafting the future of public safety. She’s asked a while later about her harsh words for the council and how that’ll lead to collaboration. “I am willing to work with them, and I think we need to work together,” she says. “I want to work with this council.”
12:23 PM: Best gets the final word as the event ends, saying she has faith the city and the people in it “will do what’s right.” We’ll substitute the archived video above when it’s available.
1:30 PM: West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold has issued a statement about the chief’s departure, calling it a “staggering loss.” Read her entire statement here.
4:36 PM: Six more councilmembers’ statements:
*Joint statement from Councilmembers Lorena González, Teresa Mosqueda, Tammy Morales
*Statement from Councilmember Debora Juarez
*Statement from Councilmember Andrew Lewis
*Statement from Councilmember Alex Pedersen
(added 10:02 pm) *Statement from Councilmember Dan Strauss
(added Thursday) Statement from Councilmember Kshama Sawant