Seattle Mayor Ed Murray made it official this morning: Kathleen O’Toole, the 59-year-old former Boston police commissioner, is his pick to be Seattle’s next police chief. If O’Toole is approved by the City Council, the one-time Chief Inspector with the Irish National Police Force with a international reputation for reform will become the city’s first female chief.
The O’Toole selection comes as little surprise to those following the police chief search, as she’s widely been considered the most qualified finalist for the job. In what had to be a particularly enticing resume bullet point for the selection committee led by Ron Simms and Pramila Jayapal, O’Toole recently has worked with the Department of Justice as a Joint Compliance Expert monitoring the implementation of a settlement agreement in East Haven, Conn. - where the police force was “found to have engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination against Latinos,” as the Seattle Times noted when O’Toole’s candidacy for the job was first made public. In Seattle, she’ll enter a similar situation, where the police department has been operating under a Department of Justice consent decree.
After thanking outgoing interim Police Chief Harry Bailey for his “incredible leadership,” including making tough decisions and “taking the heat” - undoubtably a reference to Bailey’s role in the discipline reversal flap that constitutes Murray’s largest mayoral scar to date - the new mayor quickly got to the task of introducing his selection, who received a standing ovation.
“All three finalist could easily have been the police chief of Seattle,” Murray said, calling O’Toole the “best candidate to move this city forward and move public safety forward.” Murray, predictably, cited O’Toole’s wealth of reform experience, both nationally and abroad, in explaining the choice. Seattle, the mayor said, begins “a new page today.”
“I’m incredibly honored an humbled,” O’Toole said of the honor, promising the community that she’ll “work tirelessly on behalf of this city.”
In what can only be seen as a positive starting note, O’Toole spoke of the need to regain public trust, and “acknowledge the mistakes of the past” while moving forward. She confidently proclaimed that she believes there’s “light at the end of the tunnel” and “the future’s bright” for Seattle, vowing to mold SPD into a force that’s “second to none.”
One unique aspect of this morning’s announcement was the nod to former Seattle Police Chief Patrick Fitzsimons, who was selected by Mayor Charlie Royer in 1979 and on hand this morning. Murray characterized the process the led to O’Toole’s selection as “rather rigorous,” describing it as the best search effort since Fitzsimons was selected. O’Toole agreed, saying the search committee “really put [the candidates] through our paces.”
Kate Joncas, President and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, instantly had a statement regarding O’Toole’s hiring at the ready:
“The Downtown Seattle Association is grateful to Mayor Murray for making public safety a top priority, and for quickly putting into place a police chief selection process which attracted quality candidates, and incorporated wide community involvement,” Joncas says. “We look forward to working with new Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole as she works to improve public safety in Downtown, and across other Seattle neighborhoods. The Downtown street environment is not always as safe and inviting as the public deserves. People who visit, work or live in Downtown should be able to expect an urban experience that is free from street disorder, open-air drug dealing and violence. For some, Downtown Seattle is their first exposure to our great city and with the help of Chief O’Toole we look forward to ensuring that impression is a positive one.”