Seattle Police Chief O'Toole stepping down after guiding reforms

SEATTLE -- Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole, who helped reform the department after federal officials found officers were too quick to use force against minorities, will step down at the end of the year, the mayor said Monday.

O'Toole took over as chief in 2014 as the city was struggling to carry out an agreement with the Department of Justice designed to curb how often officers use force.

The agreement followed questionable actions against minorities, including an officer's fatal shooting of a Native American woodcarver in 2010.

The reforms were strongly resisted by the department's brass at the time.

However, a monitoring team found the changes eventually led to a drop in how often officers use serious force, with no rise in crime or officer injuries.

During a 28-month span from 2014 to 2016, incidents in which Seattle officers used force that caused or could be expected to cause injury fell at least 60 percent from a similar period in 2009 to 2011.

New Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Deputy Chief Carmen Best will serve as interim chief beginning Jan. 1.

Former Mayor Ed Murray hired O'Toole, a former Boston police commissioner. She was the first woman to run Seattle's department.

The court-appointed monitoring team overseeing new training and policies as part of the reforms has repeatedly praised O'Toole's leadership on the issue. In a report filed in court last April, the team said she had been working tirelessly to ensure the reforms take root.

"Her constant promotion of the new use of force policies as good for the men and women of the police department and the Seattle community has done much to cultivate buy-in and ongoing application by the rank and file," the report said.

O'Toole, 63, joined the Boston police as a patrol officer in 1979 and worked her way through the ranks. She served as Boston's police commissioner from 2004 to 2006 before completing a six-year term as chief of an oversight body responsible for reforms in the Irish national police force.

Questions over her future in Seattle arose during the mayoral campaign this year after it was announced that she had been named to lead a new agency called the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, an unpaid position.

She was also part of a team seeking a multimillion-dollar contract to oversee police reforms in Baltimore. That prompted mayoral candidate Mike McGinn to publicly doubt her commitment to Seattle; O'Toole called that political theater.

"Oh God, that's ridiculous," she told The Seattle Times. "I have worked 24/7 for the past three years. I sleep with my phone next to my pillow every night."

Seattle Police Officers Guild President Rich O'Neill thanked O'Toole.

"Chief O'Toole guided the department through the very difficult task of completing all of the assessments required under the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement," O'Neill wrote. "This was done in record time and that is a testament to her persistence and her ability to put people in the right positions."