Kathleen O’Toole, who has served as Seattle chief of police since 2014 and has overseen extensive reforms in that time, called her decision to leave “more personal than professional.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s search for a new Seattle police chief will be keenly watched throughout the city, but one of the closest observers will be the federal judge set to decide whether the Police Department is in compliance with court-ordered reforms.
The announcement on Monday that Kathleen O’Toole is departing at the end of the year served as a reminder of the important role of the chief: It was O’Toole who in June 2014 took over the department and turned it around as it was still struggling to comply with a federal consent decree, signed in 2012, requiring it to remedy a history of excessive force and biased policing.
After a series of positive report cards, the city is currently awaiting a ruling by U.S. District Judge James Robart on whether to grant its request to find it in full and effective compliance with the consent decree.
If Robart does that, the next step likely would be a two-year period in which the Police Department would have to show the reforms are locked in place, or face further scrutiny.
O’Toole said Monday she is confident Robart will make a reasoned ruling, based on “the facts of the case.”
Her decision to leave ended months of speculation on her future, amid a tumultuous time in city government.
“More than anything, I love being a cop, I’ve loved every minute of it,” an emotional O’Toole said during a news conference Monday morning. “To me, its not just a job, it’s my vocation, it’s been my passion.”
Deputy Chief Carmen Best, who joined the department in 1992, will serve as interim chief beginning Jan. 1, Durkan said during the news conference.
Durkan said she plans a nationwide search for a new chief, to be led by a hand-picked committee headed by four co-chairs. She called the selection of a police chief “one of the most important decisions that a mayor can make.”
Durkan and O’Toole expressed high regard for each other, with O’Toole saying she agonized over whether to remain with a mayor who wanted to retain her.
But O’Toole has been mulling her future since May, when former Mayor Ed Murray, who selected her in 2014, announced he wouldn’t seek re-election because of allegations he sexually abused teens decades ago. O’Toole’s husband, Dan, also was rebounding…