Aug. 11 (UPI) — Seattle’s chief of police said her decision to retire next month was prompted by city council approving to cut millions of dollars from the law enforcement budget affecting some 100 jobs without her consultation.
In a press conference Tuesday, Seattle Police Department Chief Carmen Best told reporters she is retiring because she couldn’t bring her self to layoff 100 newly hired officers as mandated by city council’s decision the day before to cut spending by $3.5 million after working to build an inclusive and diverse police force.
Best said she was brought to tears by an email Monday night from a newly hired African American man who said he was “ecstatic” to work under her, and knowing that he will probably be one of the officers who will lose his job to the cuts was why she was stepping down.
“And that, for me — I’m done. I can’t do,” she said. “So that’s your answer.”
She said her decision to retire had nothing to do with city council’s decision to also cut her salary nor about the demonstrations that had reached her front door following the police-involved killing of Geroge Floyd, which spurred protests nationwide, but the “overarching lack of respect” for the officers who serve the city by the council.
“We’ve worked so incredibly hard to make sure our department was diverse, that reflects the community that we serve to just turn that all on a dime and hack it off without a plan in place to move forward is highly distressful for me,” she said. “It goes against my principles and conviction. And I really couldn’t do it.”
Asked why she wouldn’t stay on to help form the department going forward, she answered the salary cuts to staff also included the council’s decision felt punitive and she didn’t want the animosity felt toward her to spill on those under her command.
“It felt vindictive,” she said. “I definitely think it’s personal.”
Best announced her retirement effective Sept. 2 in an email memo Monday, taking many by surprise.
“This was a difficult decision for me, but when it’s time, it’s time,” she wrote. “I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times.”
Best, the first Black woman to lead the department, is a 28-year Seattle police veteran and was appointed chief in 2018.
“While I understand the Chief’s reasons, I accepted her decision with a very heavy heart,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wrote in a memo to police employees. “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.”
Durkan told reporters during the press conference Tuesday that she has no plans to find a replacement this year as the department undergoes fundamental changes.
“Right no one would know what job they would be applying for,” she said.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement he was “disheartened” over Best’s resignation while highlighting her decision as a warning to those calling for police departments to be defunded following Floyd’s Memorial Day death.
“Her example should be an inspiration to all who respect the rule of law and cherish safety and security in their communities,” he said. “This experience should be a lesson to state and local leaders about the real costs of irresponsible proposals to defund police.”
The Seattle City Council approved cuts to the police budget after weeks of demonstrators calling for reductions in funding. Best has been criticized by elected officials of color for allowing police to use tear gas to disperse protesters after Floyd’s May 25 death.
Deputy Chief Adrain Diaz will be taking over as interim police chief told reporters that he will have to move the department forward through the layoffs and that “these are going to be tough times.”
“We’ve got to move this forward, we’ve got to reimagine public safety, we’ve got to provide community safety … so right now that’s where my commitment is,” he said.