Carmen Best, Seattle’s first Black police chief, announced she is stepping down Monday after a city council vote approved cutting the budget by nearly $4 million and reducing the department by as many as 100 officers.
Best said she will retire on Sept. 2 after more than 28 years on the force in a letter to the department that was also published by the Seattle Times. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who picked Best to lead the department in 2018, appointed Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz as the interim chief, KING-TV reported.
“I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times,” Best wrote in the letter. “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 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.”
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Durkan said she she accepted Best’s decision “with a very heavy heart” in an email to police.
“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,” Durkan wrote.
The measures would cut less than $4 million of the department’s more than $400 million annual budget this year and reduce the department’s 1,400 police force by 100 through layoffs and attrition. Best’s roughly $285,000 annual salary and the pay of other top police leaders also will be cut, and officers will be taken off a team that removes homeless camps.
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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.”
Several council members said Monday that the changes were a starting point in a long process to reimagine policing and public safety.
Best’s announcement and the cuts to the department come after thousands of demonstrators marched in Seattle’s streets after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Protests have criticized the department’s use of tear gas and other less-than-lethal crowd control methods and recently marched to her home and to Durkan’s home.
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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.
Durkan and Best have planned a Tuesday morning news conference.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
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