by Will Sweger
Tuesday morning several members of the Community Police Commission gathered in City Hall in front of a phalanx of cameras to denounce the hiring process for the next Seattle Police Chief. The Commission, tasked by Mayor Jenny Durkan with finding suitable candidates for the position, recommended five candidates. In announcing the recommendations Friday, the Mayor’s office stated the selection was down to three candidates, all from places outside the city.
The Community Police Commission, a 25-member body drawn from nominations from the Mayor, City Council, and sitting members of the commission, forwarded five names as finalists for the position at the Mayor’s request. One of the names included in the Commission’s report, but excluded from the Mayor’s list, is acting Police Chief Carmen Best who took over after Kathleen O’Toole departed in January.
Enrique Gonzalez, a Committee Co-Chair, was first to address the waiting crush of press in the atrium. “The hiring process in the City of Seattle does not work. There is far too much room for bias, we have a race equity toolkit that was not used on this process,” he said, suggesting the process should restart with the five candidates in an open and transparent process.
“I was also part of the selection committee that picked the inspector general and I can tell you there were issues there too. I’m not happy with the City of Seattle’s hiring process as a whole, but I can tell you that my personal preference would have been for Carmen to be a part of that process. At the very least because she’s been here so long. She deserves the opportunity to be part of that group…we’ve interviewed her for 27 years, we’ve interviewed the other candidates for two hours. How can you compare that?”
In reference to the Committee’s influence over the Mayor, he said, “The mayor has to listen to the people. If the people are here in city hall demanding that a process be fair, be transparent, and be accountable, I think she has a responsibility to respond to that.”
The three candidates announced by the Mayor’s office were Eddie Frizell, an Inspector with the Minneapolis Police Department, Cameron McLay, a former Pittsburgh Chief of Police, and Ely Reyes, the Assistant Chief of Police for Austin. Additionally, the Committee nominated Chief Best and Jorge Villegas, the Assistant Chief of Police for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Louise Chernin, President, and CEO of the Greater Seattle Business Association and a member of the Police Chief Search Committee appointed by Mayor Jenny Durkan also commented Tuesday. “To hear that three names were selected and two of the names not selected…it was very upsetting, it was our only internal candidate, our only woman candidate, not to mention an African American woman candidate who suddenly disappeared from the list. That’s how it felt.”
The City of Seattle formed the Community Police Commission in 2013 after a federal investigation of the death of John T. Williams in 2010 after he was shot four times by a Seattle Police Officer. City legislation last year expanded the Commission and made it a permanent body. According to the city charter, final appointment power for the Police Chief rests with the Mayor and must be confirmed by a majority vote of the City Council.
Will Sweger is a contributor at the South Seattle Emerald. His work has appeared in Seattle Weekly, Curbed Seattle, The Urbanist, and Cascadia Magazine. Find him on Twitter @willsweger
Featured image by Susan Fried