“I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times,” she wrote in the letter, which the Seattle Times republished. “I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of re-envisioning public safety.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D), who opposed the city council’s police cuts, which would also have trimmed Best’s pay, said she was disappointed in her decision to retire.
“I regret deeply that she concluded that the best way to serve the city and help the department was through a change in leadership,” Durkan wrote in a letter to police officers.
Best is the latest high-profile police chief to leave her post amid the mass protests that have roiled the nation since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May, joining at least half a dozen other leaders from cities including Louisville, Portland, Ore., Nashville and Atlanta. Unlike many of those other chiefs, she wasn’t forced out by her mayor or city council.
Instead, Best’s retirement came after the Seattle City Council took a cue from protesters who have made defunding the police a central tenet of their movement. The council’s final moves, though, were far more modest than the demands of Black Lives Matter activists to redistribute 50 percent of the police department’s funds toward community programs.
Instead, the council approved proposals to reduce the force’s 1,400 officers by as many as 100 positions through layoffs and attrition, the Times reported, and to trim about $3 million from the force’s $409 million budget for 2020. A plan to significantly cut Best’s $285,000 annual salary was also scaled back.
Still, a coalition of activists and most of the council hailed the moves as a first step toward altering the nature of policing in Washington’s largest city, pointing toward a resolution promising next year to shift a number of duties — including parking enforcement, 911 dispatch and emergency management — away from the police.
“It will take time to get there, but we are acting with urgency today,” council member Teresa Mosqueda said, according to the Times.
Council member Kshama Sawant, the lone vote against the measure, argued that it didn’t go nearly far enough in stripping money and power from the force.
“This budget fails to shift the misplaced priorities of the Democratic political establishment,” she said in a statement. “It continues to hand more money over to the bloated police department than to eldercare, homeless services, and other human services, affordable housing, neighborhoods, and arts and culture combined.”
Best became interim chief in 2018 and then was hired full time, in part because of pressure from Black leaders in the city. Durkan, in her letter, credited her with reducing use of force instances and hiring a more diverse group of police officers.
But Best also faced heavy criticism over the use of tear gas and less-than-lethal munitions against protesters this summer. Last week, protesters trying to march to Best’s house were stopped by her neighbors, some of whom were allegedly armed.
Durkan said she will appoint Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz as the department’s new interim chief.