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Brewing Controversy: SPD Chief Nom Says “I Don’t Drink Coffee”

Flanked by Mayor Ed Murray and Interim Seattle Police Department Chief Harry Bailey, former Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole stood before a packed house at City Hall Monday morning as she accepted Mayor Murray’s nomination to become the first woman in Seattle history to serve as Chief of Police.

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After being met with a standing ovation from the City Hall crowd, O’Toole , who began her law enforcement career as a patrol officer and later became the Boston Police Commissioner before overseeing reforms in the Irish national police service and East Haven, Connecticut police, talked about running the Seattle Police Department “like a business” and encouraging officers to live in Seattle. She also spoke of her desire to see SPD complete the terms of its settlement agreement with the Department of Justice within the next three years, and her role in restoring public trust and officer pride to the department. “Nobody dislikes rogue cops more than good cops,” she said.

Two hours later and seven floors up, O’Toole sat at a long table inside Mayor Murray’s office atop City Hall, ready to address a brewing controversy which could put her directly at odds with an entrenched part of Seattle’s culture.

“I don’t drink coffee. I have sensitivity to caffeine. I’ll drink lots of decaf, I promise,” she says with a chuckle, before steering the conversation toward less sensitive topics like officer expectations, addressing street crime, and progressive policing:

On what she wants Seattle residents to know about her: “I want them to be realistic. This has to be a team effort, a collaborative effort. I hope I can be a facilitator and bring all these people together. I’m not going to do this job alone, that’s for sure.”

On what she expects from SPD’s officers: “It’s really important to give officers clear direction, that we train them and educate them properly, that we support them when they’re doing their jobs honestly and within the policies and procedures of the organization. I’m sure morale is in a difficult place. I just want them to know if they’re doing their jobs well and they’re honest hardworking people, we’re going to give them the support they need.”

“We should bring good business practices to the police organization. We need to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible. If we operate effectively and efficiently we’ll have safer streets, safer neighborhoods and, in fairness to taxpayers–we should get the best value for our money.”

On being the first woman to serve as Chief of Police in Seattle: “I don’t think it’s any big deal to be honest with you. I think it’s an honor, but Seattle and Washington State has had some extraordinary female leaders. I’m just one in a long line of them.”

“As Boston Police Commissioner, we had officers involved in 800 programs throughout the city of Boston. There’s nothing more important than supporting the next generation of kids out there particularly those facing difficult times whether it’s poverty, homelessness—we need to really focus on programs that will keep them on track. This will be a collaborative effort, I think police need to work closely with social services, with schools, with other community groups to address the needs of the kids.”

On coming to a city where it rains 10 months out of the year:“I feel very at home here. The climate’s similar to Ireland, but in terms of being a world-class city it’s very similar to Boston. I love the fact that it’s a city of innovation.”

On addressing street crime: “I think we can never take our eye off the ball. Crime and quality of life is very important to people living and working in our neighborhoods. I think we need to monitor closely what’s happening [and] work closely with the people in our communities to develop policing plans for each neighborhood. We need to use timely and accurate information to deploy our resources—a digital dashboard of good, solid technology so we can monitor crime patterns day to day. If you wait for months or years, trends come and go. I think you need to have real-time information.”

“I’m convinced this agency has the potential to be the best in the country. That’s why I’m here. I think from every bad comes some good, I know this department’s been under a lot of scrutiny that’s not necessarily all bad. I know it’s been a difficult time for morale, but everyone’s lining up behind the organization. I think it’s going to be an exciting place to be. I want it to be the benchmark that others look to for major urban policing “

On the differences between managing police departments on the east and west coasts: “Years ago, I remember there were ‘west coast chiefs and ‘east coast chiefs’ but I don’t think I fall into any typical category. I’ve had an interesting opportunity to do a lot of work overseas. I’ve seen how the culture of different organizations varies and I think good policing practices can apply everywhere. But they need to be culture-proofed according to the jurisdiction where you’re applying them. You have progressive police chiefs and traditional police chiefs, and I like to think I’m a progressive chief, a change driver.”

Mayor Murray anticipates the Council confirmation process for O’Toole will be complete by June 23rd.