With a few notable exceptions (Mayor Nickels, Urban League), everyone and their mother seems to be calling for Gil Kerlikowske to step down as police chief on account of his perceived lenience toward a handful of rogue cops. Fresh accounts of the Chief taking issue with Office of Professional Accountability disciplinary recommendations seem to roll in daily. It's gotten to the point where few people, including me, would be surprised or angered if Kerlikowske threw in the towel.
But I sure hope he hangs in there.
Good police chiefs don't grow on trees -- and Kerlikowske is a good police chief. In many ways, the post, while prestigious, is a lose-lose proposition, a constant balancing act between the polarized demands of disenfranchised citizens and beat cops who rarely see things through the same set of lenses. Lean too far toward the citizens' perspective, and no-confidence votes from the union ensue. Lean too far toward the rank and file, and the sort of shitstorm Kerlikowske is enduring right now is apt to happen. (Full disclosure: I was on staff at the Salvation Army's Northwest Division headquarters when Kerlikowske served on that nonprofit's board -- which he does to this day -- so my rather high opinion of him personally might taint this screed a bit.)
Let's assume Kerlikowske has been misguided in the exonerations or wrist-slappings of cops who deserved harsher sentences. That wouldn't be good, and therefore may merit public reprimand, apology, and/or a promise of changed behavior in the future. This, to me, is the worst case scenario, yet the truth is typically a lot less black and white than the Chief's opponents would like it to be. But force him out? The punishment doesn't fit the crime, simply because when you look around this city, there's not much crime. This is the key barometer by which Kerlikowske's performance should be measured, and by that measure, he's doing pretty darn well.
Let me seize this opportunity to beat a drum I've been banging fairly subtly since returning from a four-year sabbatical in St. Louis, a city with ten times the crime and police problems that we have here: Seattleites don't know how good they've got it. If Kerlikowske fucked up, let him suffer the consequences. But those consequences shouldn't, in my opinion, include showing him the door.