Police-chief nominee O’Toole glides through confirmation hearing
In what sounded at times like a coronation, Seattle City Council members seemed all but ready to approve Kathleen O’Toole’s nomination, although there will be a few more rounds of public scrutiny before the full nine-member council votes on June 23.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Kathleen O’Toole appeared Wednesday to be headed toward speedy approval as Seattle’s next police chief, bolstered by a smooth first confirmation hearing before the City Council’s public-safety committee.
In what sounded at times like a coronation, council members seemed all but ready to vote in favor of her nomination, although that will take a few more rounds of public scrutiny before the full nine-member council votes on June 23.
The former Boston police commissioner emphasized the four themes she first highlighted when Mayor Ed Murray introduced her as his choice on May 19: restoring public trust; rebuilding pride inside the department; improving the quality of life and reducing violence in neighborhoods; and operating the department as an effective and efficient business.
“It’s time to go out,” O’Toole said of her responsibility, into “every neighborhood in the city.”
In her first 30 to 60 days, she said, she would ask for a preliminary policing plan for each neighborhood with input from officers and residents who have the best knowledge and solutions.
Appearing before committee Chairman Bruce Harrell and five other council members, O’Toole reiterated her support for carrying out federally mandated reforms — to curb excessive force and biased policing — required under a consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.
To illustrate the urgency, O’Toole said she planned to meet Wednesday night with Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing reforms, because, although she is not chief yet, she wants to “hit the ground running.”
She noted some members of the department are demoralized but want to have strong leadership and to see trust restored.
“I have no tolerance for people who violate the rules,” O’Toole said, while stressing the need to support good officers.
As part of recruiting new officers, O’Toole said, she would like to change the TV image of the job from car chases, gunfights and enforcement to one of service and saving lives.
In response to a question from Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, O’Toole declined to comment on a federal lawsuit filed last week by more than 100 officers that seeks to block new use-of-force policies they view as unreasonable.
But O’Toole said it saddens her when a disagreement reaches the point of a lawsuit, and that her preference would be to solve such a problem “through dialogue.”
Bagshaw also raised concerns about downtown crime, such as open drug dealing.
“This city has a phenomenal reputation,” O’Toole responded, “and we don’t want that type of activity downtown to undermine the reputation for both the business community and those living there.”
Asked by Councilmember Kshama Sawant about biased policing, O’Toole cited her past efforts to curtail discriminatory policing in the New Jersey State Police and to formulate new policing policies in Northern Ireland.
“That has been a priority of mine throughout my career,” the 60-year-old O’Toole said.
Former King County Executive Ron Sims, a member of the mayor’s police-chief search committee, opened the hearing by explaining the process by which the committee identified the three finalists for police chief, calling it an “exhaustive” search.
The first speakers during the public-comment portion of the hearing urged O’Toole, if she is confirmed, to address downtown crime.
Another said her first priority should be to meet with victims of police brutality, particularly members of the black community.
Leslie Smith, who is working on vitalization in Pioneer Square, which she called “the birthplace of this fair city,” urged O’Toole to provide a “better model of policing.”
O’Toole is to appear next Wednesday at a public hearing of the council’s public-safety committee in South Seattle, followed by a committee meeting the next day where a preliminary vote will be taken on her confirmation.
O’Toole, currently a consultant, served as Boston’s first female police commissioner from 2004 to 2006, then until 2012 as chief inspector of the Irish national police after a major corruption scandal.
She started her police career in 1979, joining the Boston Police Department as a patrol officer. She spent seven years there before holding various public and private jobs in Massachusetts, including that of secretary of public safety and lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Police.
O’Toole would become Seattle’s first woman to serve as full-time police chief if confirmed.
Earlier Wednesday, the council’s governance committee approved a salary of $250,000 for the new chief, an increase from about $215,000, and $40,000 in moving expenses. The full council will vote on those figures June 23, the day it also votes on confirming O’Toole.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich