O’Toole spells out ambitious plan to bolster Seattle police
Kathleen O’Toole, former Boston police commissioner, edged out two chiefs to become Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s choice for police chief. Finalist Robert Lehner reportedly made a strong impression and might wind up with a job in Seattle’s police administration.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Seattle police chiefs since 1979
1994-2000, Retired in the wake of WTO riots
2000, Served as acting chief
2000-2009, Left to become the U.S. drug czar
2009-2013, Interim chief, then appointed in 2010
2013-2014, Served as interim chief
2014, Served as interim chief
2014 (Awaiting City Council confirmation hearings)
Former Boston police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole wasted no time Monday outlining an ambitious plan for the Seattle Police Department, listing four themes she will pursue if confirmed to be the city’s next police chief.
Within minutes of being named as Mayor Ed Murray’s choice for the position, she rattled them off: tirelessly working to restore public trust; rebuilding pride in a wounded department; improving the quality of life and reducing violence in neighborhoods; and operating the department as an effective and efficient business.
“I think we’re on the right track,” the 60-year-old O’Toole said at a City Hall news conference packed with city leaders, police officials and others who wanted to see the person who, if confirmed by the City Council, will become the first woman to serve as Seattle’s full-time police chief.
Among those in the audience was former Seattle Police Chief Patrick Fitzsimons, 84, who served from 1979 to 1994 after coming from the New York City Police Department.
“I am incredibly honored and humbled to be appointed to this position,” O’Toole said, pledging to push forward with federally mandated reforms to curtail excessive force and biased policing that she called an “outstanding road map.”
The department, she said, will have to work hard to restore the public’s trust.
“We have to acknowledge mistakes of the past,” O’Toole said, referring to a series of high-profile confrontations between officers and citizens, some caught on videotape, that led to federal oversight and a 2012 consent decree, with the Department of Justice (DOJ) requiring reforms.
“Nobody dislikes rogue cops more than good cops,” O’Toole said. “If people make honest mistakes we’ll stand by them.”
Murray, calling O’Toole a leader who can fashion the department into a national model of policing, said he will recommend to the City Council that she be paid $250,000 a year.
O’Toole plans to begin looking for a home in the city with the assistance of her daughter Meghan, 30, who was at Monday’s news conference.
O’Toole edged out two other finalists for the job: Frank Milstead, the police chief in Mesa, Ariz., and Robert Lehner, the police chief in Elk Grove, Calif., who were chosen by a 12-member search committee.
But Lehner might not be completely out of the picture.
He left a strong impression and city officials have discussed the possibility of hiring him as part of O’Toole’s command staff, according to source familiar with the matter.
Lehner said Monday he has not been approached about a job but declined further comment.
He issued an effusive statement Monday, praising O’Toole, Murray and what he described as the rigorous search process.
“Kathleen O’Toole is top notch, the best in our business, and the Mayor made a great decision to appoint her as Seattle police chief,” the statement said.
“I suspect SPD and the city will notice an almost immediate, and positive, difference in style and tone,” Lehner added. “I have no doubt that you will see major progress toward required and desired reforms very quickly and SPD will soon be known for the best policing practices in America.”
Murray spokesman Jeff Reading declined to comment on the possibility of bringing Lehner into the police administration.
In an interview after the news conference, O’Toole said of the possibility: “Oh, that’s interesting. I haven’t had any discussions with him.”
“People have said that he’s a great guy,” she added, saying she wants to talk with both of the other finalists to get their insights.
Murray earlier said he would require his new chief to bring in at least one outside aide, in part to bolster the reform effort.
He signaled his intention in response to a recent unfair-labor-practice complaint filed by the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) that seeks to block the police chief from bringing in assistant chiefs from outside the department.
Murray signed City Council legislation in January allowing law-enforcement officers from outside the department to be hired as assistant and deputy chiefs. The legislation repealed a 1978 restriction that limited the police chief to selecting senior commanders from the current pool of captains and lieutenants.
The SPMA, citing potential harm to its members, asserts in the complaint the change is subject to mandatory bargaining, which the city has refused to do.
In addition to requiring one outside hire, Murray said he also would be supportive of the new chief bringing in additional people from the outside.
O’Toole said she is considering several people for the outside position Murray wants.
In her first 30 to 60 days, she said, she would form a transition team, with a mix of inside and outside people, to help shape her eventual command staff. She stressed she strongly believes in “professional development” and rewarding qualified internal candidates.
Capt. Eric Sano, president of the SPMA, said Monday that his association doesn’t object to outside assistants but wants to negotiate the number.
Sano, who served on the police-chief search committee, said O’Toole was his favorite among the finalists. “She is a strong leader and a good communicator,” he said. “And she’s no-nonsense.”
Moreover, Sano said O’Toole’s “breadth of experience is really incredible,” including her current role as the federal compliance expert helping the East Haven, Conn., police department curtail false arrests, excessive force and biased policing uncovered by the DOJ.
O’Toole was named to that position in February 2013. A year later, the DOJ issued a report saying East Haven’s progress, toward compliance with a consent degree outlining police reforms, was “remarkable.”
O’Toole, who goes by “Kathy” and currently is 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 force following 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 state secretary of public safety and a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Police.
Seattle once had a female police chief, Bertha Landes, but she lasted only a few days in that office.
As Seattle City Council president in 1924, Landes was acting mayor while Mayor Edwin Brown was in New York City for the Democratic National Convention.
She wielded her temporary powers to fire Police Chief William Severyns after accusing the Police Department of collusion with bootleggers and gambling joints. Naming herself acting chief, she then ordered a campaign to shut down vice activities.
The action was reversed when Brown, alerted by a telegram, boarded a train home to resume his duties.
O’Toole’s nomination to Seattle’s top police job was met with enthusiasm by department insiders and police watchdogs alike.
Kathleen Taylor, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington — the group that first called for a federal investigation of the SPD — said O’Toole had forged a good relationship with the ACLU of Massachusetts while commissioner of the Boston Police Department.
Taylor, a member of Murray’s police-chief search committee, said she found it “pretty exciting to have a woman as chief.” She said she expects O’Toole and Sue Rahr, the retired King County sheriff and director of the state’s police-training academy, to work closely.
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the public safety committee, says he hopes the nomination process — which will include at least two public hearings — will be done by the end of June.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, whose office and the DOJ negotiated the consent decree with Seattle officials, issued congratulations to O’Toole, praising her commitment to “strong, effective community-based policing.”
Pramila Jayapal, the social-justice activist who co-chaired the search committee, said she saw the depth of support for O’Toole’s style when she visited Boston to check her background.
“She’s extremely skilled at building relationships in the community,” Jayapal said.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @stevemiletich
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or email@example.com. On Twitter @stimesmcarter
Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this story, which includes information from Times archives.