Mayor Ed Murray has named Kathleen O’Toole, the former commissioner of the Boston Police Department, as his pick to head up the police department in Washington state’s biggest city, putting the embattled agency on track to having its first female police chief.
Murray, who was inaugurated in January, vowed to clean up the 1,300-officer department, which has been operating under a federal consent decree that required stiff reforms to combat excessive force and biased policing.
At a news conference packed with police brass and elected officials, Murray said. “Seattle is in a different place. We find ourselves under a fed court order that many in this city thought would never happen. Which makes the choice I’m about to announce that much more significant.”
Murray described visiting a neighborhood business district that had been shot up in a burst of gunfire just days earlier and declared that change needs to happen, that “the people who walk the streets in South Seattle, particularly young African American men, should be able to walk safely.”
And he said he chose O’Toole, 59, because she is “the best candidate to move this city forward and to move public safety forward. I chose her because of her experience as commissioner of the Boston Police Department. I chose her because she helped develop a new framework for policing in Northern Ireland…for her long history of working with the Department of Justice on civil rights issues and police reform.”
In accepting the nomination for the top job, O’Toole said Monday that she will focus on four themes as she works to bring the police department into compliance with federal requirements in the next three years: restore public trust in the department, improve department pride, enhance the quality of life by reducing crime and run the department more like a business complete with improved use of technology.
“No one person can change this organization,” O’Toole said. “It will be a collective, collaborative effort from everyone in this room.”
If approved by the City Council, O’Toole will take the job at a salary of $250,000, Murray said. Elk Grove, Calif., Police Chief Robert Lehner and Mesa, Ariz., Police Chief Frank Milstead were also finalists for the job.
U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan, based in Seattle, applauded O’Toole’s nomination and her pledge, if confirmed, to continue the difficult work of reforming the police department here.
“O’Toole will inherit a police department that has dedicated officers and civilian staff, but is undergoing profound change,” Durkan said in a written statement. “In recent months, the Seattle Police Department has adopted new policies that touch every important part of policing: data collection, use of force, stops and detentions, crisis intervention and bias[ed] policing.
“The sheer logistics and effort to implement these changes cannot be overstated,” Durkan said. “Virtually every officer will undergo intensive training in the coming months. Entire new data and computer systems must come on-line. Progress is being made every day but there is still work to be done.”