Police-chief nominee meets public, safety panel in South Seattle
Seattle police-chief nominee Kathleen O’Toole appeared before a City Council committee Wednesday night and answered questions from the public.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle police-chief nominee Kathleen O’Toole repeatedly spoke of the need for collaboration between the police, social-service providers and school officials during a public hearing Wednesday night, where speakers pleaded for more enforcement to deal with crime in South Seattle and downtown.
“Your voices will be heard,” O’Toole promised during a special meeting of the City Council’s public-safety committee at the New Holly Gathering Hall in South Seattle.
The former Boston police commissioner, Mayor Ed Murray’s choice to be Seattle’s next police chief, initially listened to comments from the public during the committee’s second hearing to consider her nomination. She then fielded questions and comments from committee Chairman Bruce Harrell and four other council members.
The committee will meet again Thursday for a third hearing, where it is expected to take a preliminary confirmation vote. If a majority of the council appears at the meeting — where any council member can vote, whether on the committee or not — O’Toole, 60, could secure enough votes to effectively assure her confirmation when the full nine-member council votes June 23.
A Pioneer Square resident opened the hearing, saying she and her family enjoyed living in the neighborhood but wouldn’t stay unless there is more action to deal with low-level crime.
A downtown resident raised concerns about open-air drug markets, while several speakers from South Seattle decried the violence that has plagued their neighborhoods.
Ron Momoda, who said his family has lived in the Rainier Valley for 51 years, presented the council statistics from 2011 and 2012 showing that the Police Department’s South Precinct has had vastly more robberies and burglaries than entire surrounding cities such as Bellevue, Kent and Renton.
Neale Frothingham, who lives in a neighborhood in the Rainier Beach area, said more officers are needed to deal with crime and violence because too many offenders get away.
O’Toole, in comments that came later, said that before it hires more police, the department needs to evaluate what officers are doing and allocate them based on demands.
Additionally, she said, the department needs to do better at developing real-time data to track crime, and she described herself as a “big proponent of analysts.”
In Boston, she said, young civilian analysts won over officers with the ability to analyze crime patterns and find a “needle in the haystack.”
Addressing a South Seattle school principal who spoke of her students recently having to take shelter during a nearby police incident, O”Toole said, “School safety is a priority.”
Referring to the recent school shootings that she called “horrific,” O’Toole spoke of new, emerging thoughts on how to deal with an active threat, although she did not lay out specific proposals.
On restoring trust in the department, which is under a federal consent decree to curb excessive force and biased policing, O’Toole referred to the comment of one speaker, saying, “I absolutely agree with the person who said trust must be earned.”
She told the crowd about keeping officers in riot gear out of sight unless needed for demonstrations during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, when she was police commissioner.
Only six arrests were made as a result of the less-confrontational approach, after some had predicted there would be 2,000, she said.
O’Toole, who is now 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.
Last week, the council’s governance committee approved a salary of $250,000 for the new chief, an increase from about $215,000, and up to $40,000 in moving expenses.
The full council will vote on those figures June 23.
Information from Seattle Times archives was included in the report. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich