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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Seattle City Council Public Safety Committee Confirms Police Chief Nominee, But Is She Ready to Take On Anti-Reform Officers?

Posted by on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 5:05 PM

  • Mayor's Office

That was fast! In the space of about a half hour, the public safety committee of the Seattle City Council unanimously confirmed Seattle police chief nominee Kathleen O'Toole. She'll go before the full council for final approval on June 23.

Worryingly, O'Toole continues to stop short of unambiguously condemning the police officers openly opposed to reforming the SPD. In response to written questions from the council, O'Toole said, "In my experience, most good people buy in and are eager to move forward. There will always be pockets of resistance, but they are eventually marginalized by the good people who want to do their jobs and take pride in their organization...In the end, it’s all about the people. Leadership needs to listen to them, communicate effectively with them and encourage their buy in."

Isn't that the opposite of how an efficient business—O'Toole has repeatedly said she'd like run SPD like one—would operate? If there are employees who aren't on board with the change she's pushing, shouldn't they be penalized in some way?

After her confirmation, I asked O'Toole about the over 100 officers who've filed a lawsuit to block common sense excessive force reforms. "I'm never dismayed when people file lawsuits because we're a litigious society and that's a good thing," she said. "People have the right to voice their opinions. No, I don't hold that against people. But I look forward to speaking with them and others to find out what was behind that and to learn more about it, to be honest."

Mayor Ed Murray, who selected her, has been much harsher in his appraisal of the lawsuit. "They don't want us to follow through on police reform," he said last month. "But this is not the 60s and this not the South."

O'Toole said she hasn't read the suit, but looks forward to doing so. But, I asked, does she think the officers behind it are on the wrong side of reform? "No...I think there's an opportunity to wipe the slate clean at this point and give everybody a chance to be on the side of reform," she responded, "and I hope that all of them will come around."

But obstinate police officers have had plenty of chances to "come around"—the city has been under the consent decree for a few years now—and instead, they've fought reforms every step of the way, with dozens of them filing their latest lawsuit after O'Toole was nominated as chief by the freshman mayor. The sooner O'Toole realizes that, and stops talking about appeasing the worst segments of SPD, the better.


Comments (9) RSS

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I know that The Stranger is itching for someone to officially denounce the entirety of the SPD, but you have to realize that she is going to have to work with these people. Firing a quarter of the SPD out of the gates just isn't an option. In order to do her job effectively, O'Toole needs the trust of the SPD, and she's not going to get that by waltzing in and telling everybody that they're a bunch of fuckups and fuckup-enablers.

She seems like she realizes what effective policing looks like. I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt here, and say that her unwillingness to call the unions unambiguous monsters is, in fact, her exercising tact.
Posted by Ruke on June 12, 2014 at 5:57 PM · Report this
She can't very well come out and say something like that right now. It would do nothing but invite controversy and create more discord.

You would do the same if you came in to run a failing business. Start with a clean slate, but then quickly ascertain who is an asset and who is a liability. But a new boss should not fully judge employees based only on things from prior to their tenure. Especially when they are there because leadership has been a problem.

Sometimes people are bad, but sometimes people are only bad because they are being lead by bad people. You gotta give a chance under the new regime.

Starting off by picking a fight is not the way to do that.

The real test is what she does on the job.
Posted by giffy on June 12, 2014 at 5:57 PM · Report this
But @1 & 2, what Ansel wants would be ever so much more exciting for the blogosphere. Heaven forbid we have a chief that actually gets things done and takes SPD out of the headlines. Then Ansel would have to find another fire to stoke.
Posted by RDPence on June 12, 2014 at 6:02 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 4
I think the most reformist element in the Seattle electorate were those who turned out to vote for Kshama Sawant. And her basic platform had 3 things. One of them was not police reform. Yeah, she talked about the SPD here an there, but her voters care about the minimum wage, rent control, and a millionaires tax. She beat those issues like a drum and that's how she won.

So, yeah, new police chief. Great. Maybe do some good. But don't expect real reform in the SPD until the people of Seattle start to show that it matters to them whether we beat and kill minorities in this town. People here care more about looking bad than anything else. If the cops can stay out of the news for any major scandals, then the voters will accept business as usual.

You can be very progressive on lots of issues and still be solidly racist when push comes to shove.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on June 12, 2014 at 7:38 PM · Report this
Here comes the disappointment.
Posted by wasd on June 12, 2014 at 10:56 PM · Report this
Post_Mortem 7
Picking a fight with unionized workers over their apparently legal (if ill advized) actions may not be the best way to establish control right out of the gate. At this point, her tact seems prudent. If she were to allow reform to be actually be stifled, that would be problematic. But saying she expects most officers to get on board with her program is hardly 'appeasement'.

Doesn't anybody here ever worry that overuse of histrionic hyperbole might deaden the readers to the force of such diction?
Posted by Post_Mortem on June 12, 2014 at 11:28 PM · Report this
"Isn't that the opposite of how an efficient business—O'Toole has repeatedly said she'd like run SPD like one—would operate? If there are employees who aren't on board with the change she's pushing, shouldn't they be penalized in some way?"

Um, actually, in a business in which you have long-term employees - in this case with tenure - bringing in the hatchet man isn't "the most efficient" way to proceed. You'll read plenty of management books - and hear from real life managers, like me - that reaching out to and slowly swaying the doubters to your side is by far the more "efficient" way of proceeding. As much as it may disappoint you, starting a bloodbath isn't usually the best first step.
Posted by el ganador on June 13, 2014 at 8:07 AM · Report this
Hernandez 9
I don't see anything particularly problematic with her statements. I don't think it would be prudent to commit to mass firings (let's be frank, when you say "penalized" you mean "fired") before she even officially has the job.

Remember when Mike McGinn came storming in with a big promise to cull upper management at the city? Remember how that blew up in his face? He lost a lot of capital and credibility and he'd barely even started his first term. O'Toole is smart to avoid a similar gaffe.

Beyond that, taking the emotions out of it, there is a cost of money and resources to hire and train new police officers. If some of these bad officers can be "salvaged" - that is, buy in to her program through better management and training - then it's prudent to not fire them straight away. A 20-year department veteran braying about reform? He represents a significant investment by the city. She's not going to kick him out before she knows if she can turn him around first.
Posted by Hernandez on June 13, 2014 at 8:34 AM · Report this
Cascadian 11
Could Mayor Murray make a more out-of-touch Seattle white guy comment? This "isn't the 60s and it's not the South"? So racism and police brutality are only things that happened somewhere else a long time ago? Does he not realize that Seattle has just as long of a racist history as any other place, and just as much of a problematic present?
Posted by Cascadian on June 13, 2014 at 11:27 AM · Report this

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