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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Seattle Police Chief Candidate Kathleen O'Toole Just Said the Smartest Thing I've Heard About Policing in a Long Time

Posted by on Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 4:27 PM

OToole and Murray the day he announced her as his pick for police chief.
  • City of Seattle
  • Kathleen O'Toole and Mayor Ed Murray the day he announced her as his pick for police chief.
This afternoon, the Seattle City Council's public safety committee had a little meet and greet with the yet-to-be-confirmed police chief candidate Kathleen O'Toole. I guess it could've been a moment for some tough questions, but the council seems to be on autopilot here, after a chief search process that O'Toole herself called "grueling." O'Toole is scheduled to be confirmed on June 23, after a public meeting on June 11 and another council meeting on the 12th.

Ron Sims, co-chair of the search committee, overflowed with praise for O'Toole, saying she'd "won our heart" and describing her as "innovative," "imaginative," "demanding," and "responsive." If the council confirms her, he said, "I don't think any other city will have a better, finer police chief than Seattle." Even public commenters, who tend to regale this committee in particular with invective and rage, seemed cautiously optimistic or downright excited to see O'Toole, who was as graceful, candid, and cheerful as ever. After committee chair Bruce Harrell asked her to keep her remarks short due to time, she joked that she tries to "follow the three B's: Be brief, be brilliant, be gone." The room was quite taken with her.

Which means I got skeptical. It's my job! When everyone's feeling gushy and warm and City Hall's passing out hugs, I kind of want to know who spiked the Kool-Aid and what's going on in that back room over there. But then she said something that I've been waiting to hear from a police chief for a really long time. And I understood Sims's remark about her winning the search committee's heart.

"My favorite part of the job," she said, for the at least the second time, "is always getting out there in the community." She added that sure, she understands everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and maybe not every officer considers public outreach or community engagement their best asset.

But, she mused, "I think for a long time we've maybe recruited the wrong type of people to policing." She sounded a bit like she was thinking aloud.

"On TV," she said, "policing is all about car chases," and tough guys, and action shots. But that's just not a reflection of reality—and it's not good advertising for the job. In the real world, she continued, "policing is all about helping people in need." Whether that's solving a crime or delivering a baby or answering questions, it's "just really being there for people in need."

So, she added, "we need to better educate young people on what the job's all about. And hopefully we'll recruit the kind of candidates who are eager to get out there in the community."

She's certainly not the first person to posit that maybe the "wrong type of people" are attracted to policing, a position of societal power that can be abused. But she's our next police chief talking about the parts of police culture that are wrong, and she's also saying clearly that there's a solution: recruiting good cops, training them well, emphasizing community engagement. Her version of policing is all about public trust and a good relationship with the general public—and she said all this in answer to a comment from Bruce Harrell on the department's race and social justice training, meaning that these comments were about officers' responsibility to engage with all communities.

Whether words are backed up by deeds is something that only time will tell, and deeds are really the only way to judge a police chief. But it's certainly a glimmer of hope.


Comments (16) RSS

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Fnarf 1
Wow. I can't believe I'm actually excited about a police chief. She's absolutely right about the purpose and practice of police work.

Now if only there was some way to get rid of the existing "wrong kind of officers".... One way has to be lots and lots of anti-racism and social justice training -- it's the kind of thing that breeds resistance, but it does eventually sink in if you keep hammering away at their thick skulls.
Posted by Fnarf on June 4, 2014 at 4:40 PM · Report this
I think I know what you mean.

I have often wondered why police departments don't recruit from groups you wouldn't expect: (younger) readers of The Stranger, for example. Or maybe at local gyms -- (whatever one says, cops should have high level of fitness -- physical presence IS a factor on the street.)

In fact, maybe you (Anna Minard) ought to ask the SPD this question: "OK, how does SPD recruit? Where? When? How? Where do you post the signs and place the ads to get new cops? Is it only ex-military? etc etc"
Posted by unregistered 9182 on June 4, 2014 at 4:45 PM · Report this
Re the "wrong kind of officers." This reminds me of a story I heard many years ago, about a guy who returned to his high school reunion and noted the men who became police officers -- they had been the school bullies and troublemakers, the guys stealing hubcaps and otherwise bothering people.

Changing police culture by changing recruiting; makes sense to me. I too am cautiously hopeful that Chief O'Toole will be a prime mover in righting this ship and making Seattle proud of its police force.
Posted by RDPence on June 4, 2014 at 4:54 PM · Report this
TCLballardwallymont 4

The process itself is well documented here -…

The most relevant pre-employment portion in determining character would seem to be the Oral Board.

The SPD hiring website also details some of their recruitment activities, which are what you would expect - partnership with CBO's, job fairs, and colleges.
Posted by TCLballardwallymont on June 4, 2014 at 4:57 PM · Report this
Oh man I think I can hear the blood vessels bursting in the heads of the reactionary wing of the police union (the 'wrong kind of people' that is) from where I am sitting right now.
Posted by Rhizome on June 4, 2014 at 5:13 PM · Report this


& my thought that sometimes questions to a public official can act as suggestion to do more than "what you would expect".
Posted by unregistered 9182 on June 4, 2014 at 5:17 PM · Report this
Given that the only person I've ever known who became a police officer was the neighborhood bully who tormented me and my friends with an axe on a regular basis, I'd say she's right on about attracting the wrong sort. It'd be nice if that changed, but there's a lot to undo there.
Posted by ebchill on June 4, 2014 at 5:21 PM · Report this
I wonder

1. if she offered too-loose talk with that "recruited the wrong type of people to policing"?


2. she was deliberate and decided that playing nice won't work and is prepared to "go to the mat" and "draw a line in the sand" (love those metaphors!) with the "wrong type" and make them shape up or fire them?

I don't follow the issue enough but her words seem very provocative. Maybe she wants to get the words out to force the Mayor/Council to either back her 100%? or give them opportunity to chicken out and not hire her?

Posted by unregistered 9182 on June 4, 2014 at 5:26 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 9
I would also note that politics also attracts the wrong sort of people to it as well. exhibit a: every republican senator.

"I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member".
Posted by Max Solomon on June 4, 2014 at 5:45 PM · Report this
The Stranger writer in question was allowed to write about a positive decision made by Murray. Frozen pigs are flying out my ass in hell.
Posted by hmmmmm on June 4, 2014 at 8:08 PM · Report this
I'm a gay man who started the process to become an officer several years ago. I do not fit the mold of an officer in the least. Every step of the way I received nothing but encouragement because the skillset I had (A LOT of customer service and dealing with multiple ethnicities) was desired by the PD. I chose not to pursue the career change for several reasons, but there are a lot of personalities in SPD who agree with the prospective new chief.

Now the question is, will we give her a fair shake and give her enough time to get her reforms in motion? Reforming the PD is but one step of the equation, as residents, thinking of officers as allies instead of something to be feared is another step. The first instance of bad behavior by the PD on her watch will be scrutinized by the citizens and the media. How she handles it will cement her reputation for many.
Posted by ProstSeattle on June 4, 2014 at 11:38 PM · Report this
@11, "we" don't have the power to give or not give her a fair shake. Murray and the feds have that power. Considering that Harry Bailey was chosen by Murray, tolerated by the federal monitor and Jennie Durkan, and should have been tossed within a week, caution is advised.
Posted by sarah70 on June 4, 2014 at 11:49 PM · Report this
They all said good shit in the beginning.
Posted by crumley on June 5, 2014 at 8:32 AM · Report this
A dear friend of mine, an old Quaker wrote a lot about policing - particularly how policing was looking more like soldiering, and soldiering was looking more like policing. He proposed that there be a public service police corp - like America Corp or VISTA. This would rotate people from the community through the Department and there would always be a significant contingent of "non-life-time professionals" in the ranks. He felt it was important to knock apart the we/they element of policing and get them more intimately connected to the community. I like it. He saw it like the draft.
Posted by retrogrouch on June 5, 2014 at 8:53 AM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 15
@8 It may not be necessary to fire them. If staying in the barrel requires that the rotten apples have to toe the line (at least attend "liberal" training regularly) and the culture of the department improves, maybe they'll self-deport to another department elsewhere that's more comfortable for them.
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on June 5, 2014 at 10:37 AM · Report this
I knew when I read the headline that this smartest thing Anna has hear in a long time would be some inane heartwarming drivel. And so it came to be.
Posted by Billy Chav on June 6, 2014 at 12:02 AM · Report this

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