Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole to step down at end of year

SEATTLE — Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said she will step down at the end of the year, saying personal reasons far outweighed professional ones.

Seattle Police Deputy Chief Carmen Best will serve as interim chief starting January 1.

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Durkan made the official announcement at an 11 a.m. press conference, in which she outlined the next steps to select a permanent police chief as well as a plan for continued reforms.

Durkan said she would have liked O'Toole to stay on as chief, but now that she plans to resign, she hopes to have a new chief in place by the coming spring.

Rumors about O’Toole’s possible departure from SPD began after she was selected to lead the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland in May, an unpaid position.

At that time, KIRO 7 Reporter Essex Porter asked her if she was planning to leave Seattle.

Porter: "To be clear, this has no bearing on your continued work as chief in Seattle?"

O'Toole: "No. Today, I'm focused on gang violence and getting the job done.  We have a lot of work to do here and we're going to be very focused.  I consider it an honor to SPD and the community that our reform efforts are being recognized and we can share that experience with others. We've been doing that on the national level, and now it's an opportunity to do that on an international level."

Though O'Toole denied she was leaving Seattle, at Monday's news conference she said she knew her anticipated departure hasn't been much of a secret.

"Several months ago, in my own mind, I determined it was time to move on before Jenny Durkan even announced she was running for mayor. But personally and professionally, I just felt that it was the right time," said O'Toole. "I convinced myself to stay on a bit longer to maintain stability during a very challenging time for all of us in the city," she said, likely referring to former Mayor Ed Murray's resignation in September amid child sex allegations.

"In the end, the decision was more personal than professional for me and I definitely have no notion of retirement. That's not a concept I could ever imagine," said O'Toole, who later said her husband has had health issues, which served as a wake up call as to what was really important.

"Needless to say, this has been a very difficult decision  for me. Difficult because I love this city. Difficult because I care deeply about the Seattle police department and more than anything, I love being a cop," said O'Toole, who became emotional as she talked about her departure.

O'Toole did not say what her plans were after Dec. 31, only that she wants to explore the Pacific Northwest and spend more time with her husband.

O'Toole was nominated by former Mayor Ed Murray to implement Justice Department mandated reforms to address the problem of excessive force and biased policing.

As a US District Judge is about to consider whether or not the city is in full compliance with the consent decree, Durkan said this change in power is critical and she needs the right person in place moving forward.

Interim Chief Carmen Best, who has been with the department for 25 years, said she has every intention of applying for the job.

Durkan said a committee will be put in place over next few weeks to select the new chief and there will also be at least four public meetings.

The Police Guild sent out a statement earlier Monday thanking O'Toole for her leadership and also said it has full confidence in Best.

Before becoming the first woman to lead Seattle's police department in June 2014, O'Toole spent six years on law enforcement councils in Ireland. She was also a former Boston police officer who rose to become Boston's police commissioner from 2004 to 2006.