Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Mayor Pushes For First Female SPD Chief

    The position of Seattle Police Chief has been dominated by men since the city’s establishment in the mid-1800s—but all that is almost certain to change this June.

    Kathleen O’Toole, former Police Commissioner of Boston, is Mayor Ed Murray’s choice for the position of chief that has most recently been filled by interims. The other contenders were Police Chief of Elk Grove, California Robert Lehner, and Frank Milstead, Police Chief in Mesa, Arizona.

    According to The Stranger, Murray’s search committee recommended him these candidates based on the following criteria: They looked for people with cultural competency, people who would work to avoid re-arrest/incarceration, maintain high standards for the department, and build a healthier relationship with the communities in Seattle.

    According to KIRO 7, Murray liked O’Toole because of her extensive experience and because he felt she was someone he could easily communicate with and trust. O’Toole has had 35 years in police work, moving up from the bottom ranks in Boston. She has worked on both the East Coast and in Ireland, and this June will almost certainly be voted into Seattle office by the City Council.

    “I promise you, I promise the police department, I promise the community that I’ll work tirelessly on behalf of this city,” said O’Toole to a crowd at City Hall.

    O’Toole cited earning the public trust as her top priority. The Seattle Police Department has long struggled with image and respect, as they have had multiple problems regarding the use of excessive force on the public. The US Department of Justice noticed this pattern in 2010, and began issuing for reform- which has been met with marked opposition.

    According to The Stranger, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG) is a union for police officers who, as a whole, stand behind officers implicated in cases of misconduct and try to get the cases overturned. Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel was not one to sympathize with the SPOG’s requests. In his mission for police department reform, he did not want to let up on discipline for excessive force. SPOG brought up the same cases multiple times, committed to drawing them out in expensive legal ways if they were not initially settled in favor
    of SPOG.

    Pugel didn’t give in, but when Murray was appointed, he demoted Pugel who eventually resigned completely. In Pugel’s place, Murray appointed Interim Chief Bailey, former vice president of SPOG, who was much more sympathetic when it came to settling cases of excessive force.

    O’Toole wants to work to create a better relationship between the SPD and the public, but whether she’ll take the same approach as Murray with the union is unclear.

    “I am willing to take on that difficult fight,” O’Toole told The Stranger. “I need to sit down with them and see what issues are pending… I think strong lines of communication are absolutely essential.”

    She was, however, SPOG’s first choice as the new chief of police.

    “She’s the real deal. She’s the consummate police leader, she’s the person who can help restore the morale of this police department and can help move us further in the 21st century,” said president of SPOG Ron Smith to KIRO 7.

    O’Toole has negotiated with unions in Boston, and told The Stranger she maintained a respectful, fair relationship with them. While it is still uncertain as to how she will handle Seattle’s, the mayor is not the only one who is excited to see her elected. The mayor’s communications director Jeff Reading voiced approval of O’Toole, despite not knowing her very well. Akaila Ballard of Seattle University’s Society of Feminists says that she is excited to see what, if anything, O’Toole does to promote gender equality.

    “Our police system in currently existing in a racist patriarchal system and one of the ways to break down that system is to bring women to power. Men empowering women and women empowering each other is a solid strategy for building a more equal and just tomorrow,” said Ballard.

    “Well to be honest with you, whether male or female, I’ve always said that police chiefs don’t establish their credibility sitting behind the desk as a police chief,” said O’Toole to KIRO 7. “It’s out in the field early in the career where, you know, our lives depend on each other and, you know, we have to work hard together.”

    Assuming City Council votes her through, O’Toole will be brought in as Chief of Police this month, potentially taking a step forward in both feminism and police conduct reform.

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