Seattle City Council's proposed budget amendments have resulted in cutting the pay of Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and other Seattle Police Department command staff. Best, an African American woman, will now make $100,000 less than her white predecessor.
Chief Best is also the first African American woman to be the Seattle Police Chief. Best began working for SPD in 1992 and became the interim police chief on January 1, 2018, following the departure of Kathleen O'Toole.
Best did not come by the permanent job of chief easily. According to AP News: "Despite her popularity with officers and community leaders, Best was initially passed over by a search committee that named three finalists from outside the department. After an uproar, Best's name was added when another finalist, former Pittsburgh Chief Cameron McLay, withdrew from consideration."
Best's short tenure with SPD has seen unprecedented unrest in Seattle in the wake of the death of George Floyd including looting and riots, culminating in SPD abandoning the East Precinct to rioters who then led an armed occupation of a the neighborhood in the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest. According to Best, it was not her decision to abandon the precinct.
Best has called the move to defund SPD by the council reckless and has been targeted for her opposition to the effort by activists. Last week, rioters were stopped from vandalizing the chief's home by concerned neighbors who saw hundreds of protesters marching towards Best's home.
According to MyNorthwest.com: under the new budget, "The 13 highest-ranking positions, including Best herself, would also see their salaries cut or capped at the lowest number in their pay band."
Best is open to making changes but claims that the council is not interested in speaking with her and that the cuts by the council feel personal. "I’m very open to sitting down with council and having this conversation … but I haven't been invited," she said. "Why the first African-American female chief the city has ever had is not brought to the table is worth questioning."
In an interview on the Jason Rantz show, Best's attorney Anne Bremner said the move is retaliatory. "The reaction is that this is really troubling and outrageous. Carmen Best has been an amazing police chief for Seattle. She, of course, has gone through the issues with the economy, with COVID, with Black Lives Matter, with issues of defund the police.
"She and Jenny Durkan gave a press conference where they were critical of the council. In my view, this was retaliation because as soon as they did that, the council—in a vote that was not publicized, that was not on the agenda publicly—voted to reduce her salary. This is the first black female police chief in the country. Her salary was reduced to $100,000 less than a white woman chief’s salary, namely Kathleen O'Toole."
There are even unconfirmed reports that Best may resign as Seattle Chief of Police as early as this week.
This move by the council follows a pattern that targets officers of color such as the proposed firing of new officers who are mostly people of color. Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best released a statement noting that many of the affected officers by the original 50 percent cuts proposed by council would be minorities. SPD has spent years becoming one of the most progressive police departments in the country and has made great strides in recruiting more minorities to their ranks. This means that the most recent hires, who would be let go first under a "last in first out" policy are minority officers.
For weeks, the Seattle City Council has been promising to defund SPD by 50 percent and even boasted a veto proof majority to do it. However, in the wake of public pressure including rallies and a massive signature gathering effort, the council began walking back their defunding efforts and chose to selectively target programs and line items inside SPD.
Aside from the command staff salaries, programs targeted by the council included school resource officers who are assigned to public schools, the SWAT team, and the Navigation Team which offers services to people living on Seattle streets. Seattle is already operating at close to 50 percent of full capacity of officers and has half the number of officers as cities of comparable size like Boston.
The council is scheduled to vote on the cuts and amendments to the budget on Monday afternoon.