The Seattle mayor and its outgoing police chief pointed the finger directly at the City Council for the latter’s unexpected departure amid a national reckoning about the role of policing.
Carmen Best, the first Black woman to lead the Seattle Police Department, announced her retirement Tuesday after the City Council voted to cut her salary and that of her command staff while trimming the department’s budget by close to $4 million and reducing the force by as many as 100 officers.
“I definitely think it’s personal,’' Best said.
Best and the SPD were criticized for their handling of protests that followed George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police, specifically the use of tear gas and other less-than-lethal crowd-control methods.
With activists demanding more accountability and a new approach to law enforcement across the country, protesters recently marched to her home.
“This is not about the money, and it certainly isn’t about the demonstrators,'' said Best, whose retirement will be effective Sept. 2. “I have a lot thicker skin than that. It really is about the overarching lack of respect for the officers. … Targeting my command staff and their pay, it just felt very vindictive and very punitive, and I don’t want them to be affected by that type of animus.’’
Mayor Jenny Durkan, who picked Best to lead the department in 2018, appointed Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz as the interim chief.
Durkan said she tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Best, a native of nearby Tacoma and veteran of 28 years on the SPD. The mayor also chided the City Council, whose vote Monday to reduce the force and its budget represented the first step in the process of reimagining policing and public safety.
The measures would trim a little under 1% of the department’s more than $400 million annual budget this year and reduce the department's 1,400 police force by up to 100 through layoffs and attrition. Best’s roughly $285,000 annual salary and the pay of other top police leaders also will be cut for the rest of the year, though Best's reduction was only about 3%.
“Of all the major cities in America, Seattle had the chief that not only understands the lived experience of Black America because it is her experience, but has the deep experience in policing needed to change it,'' Durkan said. "It’s why it’s been so mystifying to watch the City Council plow ahead without ever consulting her.''
Milwaukee police chief demoted: Alfonso Morales demoted after questions over use of tear gas, pepper spray at protests
The reductions fell far short of the 50% cut to the department that many Black Lives Matter protesters have demanded. Council member Kshama Sawant was the only one to vote against the budget package, saying it does not do enough to defund the police.
“This budget fails to address the systemic racism of policing," she said in a statement. “A budget that does not meet basic social needs and that continues to throw money at a racist, violent institution is a failed budget."
As the rare Black woman in charge of a large police department, Best expressed pride in the SPD's diversity. She alluded to that when mentioning an e-mail she received from a young, Black officer who had recently joined the Seattle force and was looking forward to serving under her. Best, 55, said his e-mail brought tears to her eyes.
“He is one of the people that will probably not keep a job here,'' Best said, "and that for me, I’m done. Can’t do it.’’
The advocacy group Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County called Best's departure a "loss'' and said it does not help the pursuit of police accountability.
Attorney General William Barr, who with President Donald Trump has railed against the civil unrest in cities across the country, said he was "disheartened" by Best's decision.
"In the face of mob violence, she drew the line in the sand and said, 'Enough!'" Barr said Tuesday. "Her example should be an inspiration to all who respect the rule of law and cherish safety and security in their communities. This experience should be a lesson to state and local leaders about the real costs of irresponsible proposals to defund the police."
A 'huge moment' for police reform:This could reshape Black communities for generations
Durkan had proposed cutting about $20 million from the police budget this year in part because of reduced revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the mayor sketched out a plan to reduce the police budget by about $75 million next year by transferring parking enforcement officers, the 911 call center and other areas out of the department.
“It is unfortunate Council has refused to engage in a collaborative process to work with the mayor, Chief Best, and community members to develop a budget and policies that respond to community needs while accounting for – not just acknowledging – the significant labor and legal implications involved in transforming the Seattle Police Department,” Durkan said in a statement after the vote.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Seattle police chief resigns, says $4M budget cuts were 'personal'