Seattle police chief says overarching disrespect from council members is the reason for resignation

Emotions are high in the community after Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best announced she plans to step down in September.

Her resignation comes during a tumultuous time in Seattle that has seen months of protests and calls to defund police.

 “I’ve worked with a lot of chiefs over the years, many chiefs, I’ve got to tell you she’s one of the best, and so I don’t think we are better served with her resigning,” former Seattle City Council Member Bruce Harrell said.

Harrell is speaking from a standpoint of personally knowing Best.

“She’s a human being first and I think we need to treat her with the respect that she deserves,” Harrell said.

Harrell said people who are quick to criticize don’t have a clue on what her job entails.

The former council member stayed away from commenting on the deep divide between current council members and Best. But Chief Best during Tuesday’s press conference made it clear that it was the actions of the council that made her decide to resign.

“After we worked so incredibly hard to make sure that our department was diverse and that reflects the community that we serve, just to turn that on a dime and hack it off without having a plan in place to move forward, it’s highly distressful for me,” Best said.

Best says city council members showed a lack of respect for her and her officers when they slashed SPD’s budget without any collaboration. Best has repeatedly said she remained engaged and wanted to reform the police department. Best, however, says council never invited her to the table.

Under Chief Best, SPD recruited some of the most diverse officers over the last several years. Best said she is unwilling to make layoffs, which could include some of the newest and most diverse hires. Best is the first Black police chief in Seattle.

Then there was the proposal sponsored by Kshama Sawant to cut Chief Best's salary by 40% as well as the salaries of her command staff.

“I said I’m not in it for the money, it did seem punitive and I was especially offended by the fact they would even suggest that my command staff take a salary cut,” Best said.

“It would be one thing if they just added $3 million dollars in cuts and say chief, exercise your charter duties, do what you know how to do and manage against this, but instead, instead they wanted to micro manage and play mini police chief,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

 Durkan got emotional while praising Best for her dedication and hard work.

 “My heart is obviously heavy to lose her and I will freely admit I wish she were staying,” Durkan said.

Former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says under the climate it will not be easy to find an outside leader to fill the chief’s role and he says Durkan has a political hole to climb out of.

“I am speaking from experience here, it’s not enough to say council is doing it wrong, a mayor has to step and try to lead to the right place. I am not going to say it’s easy, it’s very hard but you can’t avoid it, when you are mayor there is no hiding,” McGinn said.

Q13 News requested interviews with council members on Tuesday but no council members agreed to be questioned. 

Instead, council members sent out statements in reaction to Best stepping down. Many thanked her for the nearly 30 years of service and expressed sadness to see her go.

“I am deeply and sincerely sorry that the Chief feels Council’s actions have been disrespectful toward individual officers and that our journey to reimagine community safety has been personally directed at her. As public safety chair, I take responsibility and offer my apology to Chief Best. The Council is in a difficult position as well. We have to be able to say when we disagree, and strive for accountability when necessary," Council Member Lisa Herbold’s statement reads in part.

Council members Andrew Lewis, Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez were against the pay cut proposal.

The vast majority of council wants to defund police with the exception of Juarez.

“Her departure is a direct consequence of the lack of collaboration among leaders in the city in the face of calls for systemic change from the community. Chief Best’s resignation is a wake-up call for the Council and the Mayor’s office that we must work cooperatively to re-envision public safety. It’s also a reminder to the public that their actions have consequences too. Harassment and intimidation are not social justice tools.” Juarez said.

Harrell is encouraging council members to learn from Best during an exit interview. He also says SPD should be reaching out to allies in the community to help curtail the anger in the community, which he says is understandable.

Harrell also believes the anarchy and destruction caused by a small group of people are hijacking the important message that many peaceful BLM protesters are working hard to convey.