This morning, the City Council kicked off its confirmation hearings for Carmen Best as Seattle’s next Chief of Police.
It was a gentle start to the process, with several supporters of Best showing up to speak during public comments, and committee chair Lorena Gonzalez aiming for a general and high-level conversation to introduce the nominee to the general public.
Here are some highlights from the wide-ranging conversation:
- Best said that her vision for the department centered around three things: having every officer engage with the community, holding people accountable, and being innovative in using the best business practices to ensure that the SPD budget is being used most effectively.
- A regular theme in Best’s comments was her view that the police department is a service organization, and must strive to deliver “service excellence” to everyone in the city. She sees the service philosophy as one of giving back to the community.
- She said that the biggest challenge for the department is getting more officers hired. She explained that without a labor contract in place for the past four years, the department is not competitive in terms of pay and thus is not getting as many people in the door. She noted that SPD competes not only with other police departments, but with Starbucks and Amazon for hires. “We’re all fighting for that same pool of folks.”
- Best said that the department has been very intentional in trying to recruit from “a host of diverse communities” in order to make the police force better represent the city it serves. She noted that in the first half of 2018, 45% of hires were people of color, and 20% were women.
- She spoke to the importance of the new police accountability system, including the Office of Police Accountability, the Office of the Inspector General, and the expanded Community Police Commission, which she believes help to legitimize the police department. But she also spoke to the need to balance the necessary policies and procedures with the need to allow people to do their work.
- When asked whether there are best practices from other cities that she would like to adopt in Seattle, Best cited her conversations at police conference as evidence that other cities are looking to Seattle to figure out how to do things. That said, she did say that diversion programs are one place where she is looking to increase and enhance the department’s abilities and looking to other cities for ideas.
- On homelessness: Best said upfront, “We’re not going to criminalize homelessness.” Noting that it’s a complex issue that requires an interdisciplinary approach, she acknowledged that on one had there are people on the streets committing crimes that the police needs to address, but on the other hand the city needs to help people out of the circumstance that they are in. “The intersection of public health and public safety is a complex one, and it’s not one that just the Seattle Police Department is addressing.”
- With regard to the SPD budget, Best said that the department needs to make sure it gets reimbursed for services it provides, and particularly for special events, which have been a chronic issue.
Finally, a fun note: if you haven’t seen it yet, yesterday SPD released its lip-sync throwdown video, performed to Macklemore’s “Downtown.” (go watch it now — I’ll wait) Gonzalez closed today’s hearing by congratulating Best and the department on the video. Best responded by saying that it was a lot of fun, and emphasizing that it was all volunteer — everyone was off the clock.
The next step in the confirmation process is a public hearing at 6pm on August 1st, in City Hall.