O'Toole speaks between interim chief Harry Bailey (left) and Mayor Ed Murray.
This morning Mayor Ed Murray nominated former Boston police commissioner Kathleen O'Toole to become Seattle's next—and very first female—chief of police. O'Toole's confirmation is subject to an all-but-certain vote of approval by the Seattle City Council.
"I think restoring trust is going to be the biggest challenge," O'Toole told a packed house on the ground floor of City Hall. That's a fair assessment of a police department that is under a five-year federal consent decree to correct a pattern of excessive force and racially biased practices.
King 5's Lynda Byron and I both asked about the city's two police unions, which have fought reforms, and O'Toole acknowledged the challenges they pose.
"I am willing to take on that difficult fight," she said. "I need to sit down with them and see what issues are pending... I think strong lines of communication are absolutely essential." Tensions between the chief and union are inherent in any police department, she explained. But she intends to run SPD "like a business" and will act as an evenhanded manager, she said. "As far as I am concerned, we will start with clean slate." When she negotiated with police unions in Boston, O'Toole explained, "I never felt like I gave away the store, but I felt that I was fair. We had a respectful relationship."
Within minutes, an angry union cop demonstrated the entrenched vitriol of those unions.
Officer Mike Solan confronted me as the press conference wrapped up, indignant that I'd said the police unions had opposed reform. Solan said he was SWAT cop and member of the Seattle Police Officers Guild.
"How have the unions opposed reform?" Solan demanded.
I looked up from my laptop, trying to take stock of a bristling man in full police regalia, and I explained that the Seattle Police Management Association has filed a lawsuit to block the federal court monitor's reform plan and, just last week, filed another complaint to prevent the new chief from recruiting officers from outside Seattle into the top ranks. Officer Solan became agitated, saying that there were two unions and the Seattle Police Management Association wasn't the same as SPOG, which represents line officers. "You need to have evidence to back up your questions," he said. I reminded him that my question concerned both unions and noted that SPOG also filed a lawsuit to block the reform plan. Solan said these lawsuits and complaint were just my opinions and that I should stick to evidence. Asked whether the unions' litigation was an attempt to block reform or not, he stormed off and said he didn't have time to answer my questions.
Let's just say O'Toole has her work cut out for her.
Murray is asking the council to pay O'Toole a $250,000 annual salary. Council Member Bruce Harrell, chair of the public safety committee, says the council—Council Members Sally Bagshaw, Tom Rasmussen, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, and Jean Godden were all here—hopes to wrap up O'Toole's confirmation in June.
Council President Tim Burgess says the confirmation and salary looks all but certain.