In a decision sending shockwaves through her department, Chief Carmen Best, who spent her entire 28-year career as a Seattle police officer, announced her retirement from the Seattle Police Department Tuesday morning.
“I’m sad to leave in some ways but you know when it’s time, its time,” said Best.
Best spoke publicly about her retirement a day after the Seattle City Council approved slashing $3-million from the SPD, which includes a loss of 100 officers through a combination of layoffs and attrition. The council also cut her salary and that of her command staff.
As she reflected on her nearly three-decade career, at times she used humor.
“I think it’s been intimated that somehow it had something to do with the salary. But nobody joins the police department to get rich. I’m going to say that right now,” Best said.
But more than anything during her press conference, she was frank as she explained she couldn't bring herself to carry out the layoffs. She read a letter written to her by a new black officer.
“He is one of the people that will probably not keep a job here. And that for me, I’m done. Can’t do it,” Best explained.
Best is the first black woman to lead the SPD. She rose through the ranks from a patrol officer in the East Precinct to sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and deputy chief. Mayor Jenny Durkan appointed her to Chief two years ago after a controversial snub that led to a large public outcry.
But on Tuesday, the past was behind them as Durkan reiterated her unwavering support for Best and even appeared emotional.
“My heart is obviously heavy to lose her and I will freely admit, I wish she were staying,” said Durkan.
Best said she wrestled with the decision and made it before the Council’s Monday vote.
Durkan said she believes Best is the right person to "reimagine" policing in the city.
Best voiced her resistance to the City Council's plan to slash the department's budget by 50%, and the decision for officers to leave the East Precinct in June, when the "Capitol Hill Occupied Protest" or CHOP, took over several blocks surrounding the building for weeks. Protesters even targeted Best's home.
Durkan and Best both took shots at the City Council who they say sought to defund the SPD without a real plan.
“This is not about the money. And it’s not about the demonstrators. Be real. I have a lot thicker skin than that. It really is about the overarching lack of respect for the officers - the men and women who work so hard, day in and day out,” Best said.
“This was a difficult decision for me, but when it’s time, it’s time,” Best wrote in an email to her 1,400 officers Monday night, hours after.
“While I understand the Chief’s reasons, I accepted her decision with a very heavy heart,” Seattly Mayor Jenny Durkan wrote in an email to SPD staff members late Monday. “I have had the privilege to be with Chief Carmen Best in so many situations: with her family, at roll calls, in community meetings, and in nearly weekly meetings addressing public safety in Seattle. Her grit, grace and integrity have inspired me and made our city better.”
"It was not my decision," she said, regarding officers vacating the precinct after weeks of violent clashes with protesters in surrounding streets.
"I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times," she wrote in the email to SPD staff. "You truly are the best police department in the country, and please trust me when I say, the vast majority of people in Seattle support you and appreciate you."
Sources shared with KIRO 7 an email Best sent out to her officers Monday evening:
“To the Women and Men of the Seattle Police Department –
I wanted to notify you that I will be retiring from the Seattle Police Department, effective September 2nd, 2020. I wanted you to hear this from me, but some media have reached this conclusion on their own.
This was a difficult decision for me, but when it’s time, it’s time.
I want to thank Mayor Durkan for her continuous support through good times and tough times.
I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times. You truly are the best police department in the country, and please trust me when I say, the vast majority of people in Seattle support you and appreciate you.
I am impressed daily at your skill, your compassion, and your dedication. I am thankful my command team has agreed to continue serving the department, and that Mayor Durkan has appointed Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz as the interim Chief of Police. Chief Diaz shares my commitment to this department and has the trust of the community.
I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of re-envisioning public safety. I relish the work that will be done by all of you.
After more than 28 years, I am so thankful for the time I spent at SPD. You are my family. You will always be in my heart. We have had tough times before and come out better on the other side. I am glad I pushed through each of those tough times with you.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have served as your Chief.
Remember to take care of one another.
Chief of Police”
Shortly after Best’s email, Durkan sent a message out to members of the Seattle Police Department.
“To the members of the Seattle Police Department,
I wanted to follow up on the Chief’s note announcing her retirement from the Seattle Police Department. Know that while I understand the Chief’s reasons, I accepted her decision with a very heavy heart. I have had the privilege to be with Chief Carmen Best in so many situations: with her family, at roll calls, in community meetings, and in nearly weekly meetings addressing public safety in Seattle. Her grit, grace and integrity have inspired me and made our city better. These last months, I knew Chief Best was the person to lead our city through this challenging time, to reimagine policing and community safety. Her leadership is unmatched nationwide, which is why it is a sad day for our City to lose her.
Carmen Best is still devoted to this department and our city. I regret deeply that she concluded that the best way to serve the city and help the department was a change in leadership, in the hope that would change the dynamics to move forward with the City Council.
For almost 30 years, Chief Carmen Best has worked to serve and protect the people of Seattle. She rose through the ranks during a time when doing so was unprecedented and extraordinary for a woman – particularly a Black woman. She defied institutional barriers and always sought to lift others up along the way. Over the course of her career on the force, she established herself as a respected national leader in community-based policing.
She demands the best from each of you, and has always fought to get you the resources needed to deliver. Like me, she believes in continuous improvement and knows that it is the choices and interactions of every individual officer and employee of SPD that determine the culture and reputation of the Seattle Police Department.
I have known the Chief for many years and worked with her when I was the Citizen Observer to the FRB, on various oversight committees when she was PIO, and while I was U.S. Attorney. But it her work as Chief that has really distinguished her nationally.
As Chief, she led the way on community policing. She implemented the Collaborative Policing Bureau and oversaw the relaunch of the City’s Community Service Officers. She regularly met with community members and worked to advance a customer service approach to policing. She led the department toward a dramatic reduction in use of force against people in crisis as well as a decreased major crime rate in 2019. In addition, she hired more diverse officers to reflect the community, and in 2019, the department hired its most diverse class in recent memory at 39 percent people of color.
I have asked Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz to assume the role of Interim Chief in September. I am confident that Deputy Chief Diaz will succeed in his new role as Interim Chief. Serving nearly two decades in the department, he has led the innovative Collaborative Policing Bureau, and he will work with community members and officers to protect community safety and reimagine policing in Seattle.
We are living through one of the most uncertain and historic times in our City’s history. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and the most challenging economic times. We also must rethink our approach to community safety and to invest more deeply in communities of color. The City, like its businesses and residents, is facing tough economic times. We also are at a moment when we must acknowledge the disparate generational impacts of policing on Black people and other communities of color. Chief Best and I had begun the work of rethinking our approach to community safety, and to invest more deeply in communities of color. That work must and will continue.
I know that this necessary public debate is personal for you, and that it affects not just your jobs. It impacts your families and the pride you have in serving the public. I also know it seems like the real strides SPD has made in recent years are going unrecognized. I talk to Chief Best every day, many times in the middle of the night when significant incidents occur. I know how hard you are working and all you are doing in each part of this city to serve the residents and businesses of Seattle. I believe your work and dedication is probably more important than it has ever been, and agree with Chief Best that the city needs and supports you. I also believe SPD will not just make it through these challenges but will come through as a stronger and better organization which continues to lead the nation.
We are fortunate that Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz was ready to step into the job and he will ensure SPD remains committed to continuing Chief Best’s vision to build a police department that is centered around true community policing.
Thanks for all you’re doing for the people of Seattle.