Former police chief Carmen Best admits in her new book that she mistakenly believed Mayor Jenny Durcan was “behind my back.” and ordered officers to leave her department’s Eastern District amid racial justice protests that rocked Seattle last year.
“The mayor must have given the order,” Best wrote in Black in Blue: Leadership Lessons, Overcoming Barriers, and Racial Reconciliation, published last week by HarperCollins Leadership. “… I couldn’t think of another possible culprit.”
But Best’s misguided assumption is one of the few new discoveries in one of the most turbulent periods in modern Seattle history: the week-long protests sparked by the assassination of George Floyd by an officer in Minneapolis, which also led to civil unrest by the tear gas police. clashes and long-term political and legal consequences are here.
“It was not a historical document,” Best said of her book during an interview on Wednesday.
“I pondered and extracted the relevant parts that I thought would provide good information about the leadership issues and lessons learned. I think there are some really important things that go well beyond a couple of months. “
However, Best’s account of Seattle’s unprecedented mid-2020 demonstrations makes up much of the book’s narrative of her 28-year police career. It also breaks away from the chronology, skipping back and forth in time and combining some events that happened several days apart, without notifying readers of the date change.
Her account downplays or omits some of the period’s most controversial moments and contradicts key details known about others, the Seattle Times book review, city records, and Time Show news coverage.
Best, 56, has appeared on national television talk shows to promote the 175-page book, which is a mixture of personal flashback and narrative opinion, interrupted by occasional “tactical conversations” that provide her advice and ask questions from a leadership workshop.
The schedule book also mentions Best’s name in a nationwide conversation about policing. The former Seattle chief was named among the candidates for commissioner for the New York City Police Department in news reports this week.
Best, who suddenly retired last year due to the fallout and budget cuts from the Seattle demonstrations, declined to specifically consider the latest reports. Speaking about her future in general, she said: “I did not rule out anything.”
School, army, police academy
In her book, Best reveals that she is a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and an advocate for the police institute. She condemns so-called attempts to “justify the police,” but recognizes the need for police reform and recommends more women and better background checks when recruiting.
By and large, she concludes that the “fight against police brutality” is external, writing: “We must first of all eradicate racism and sexism in our own families.”
The book details Best’s upbringing as the daughter of a drunken soldier stationed in former Fort Lewis and her own experiences in the military. It also describes how an unsuccessful bid for student community president at Lincoln High School in Tacoma and her fragmented treatment of her as a “petite black woman” at the police academy helped shape her.
The best thanks go to “mentors, allies and sponsors,” including her predecessor, Chieftain Kathleen O’Toole, for her ascent to the top of the Seattle Department. In the prologue, she describes how Durcan informed her that she was first left as chief before public outcry led to her appointment.
In an interview, Best admitted that she worked with a “co-author” who helped write the book.
“In many ways, it was catharsis,” she said, adding that her goal is to share how she dealt with racism, micro-aggression and other difficult situations throughout her life.
Best’s version of the events of 2020 unfolds in three out of seven chapters of the book, starting with details about the January mass shooting in the city center, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and, mainly, the Seattle protests.
After Floyd’s death on May 25, Best said, she quickly made a statement to Seattle officers, calling it “murder.” She also noted that due to the “high level of preparation and commitment of the de-escalation department”, she “had confidence that nothing like this would happen in our city.”
There is no mention of any high-profile, fatal SPD encounters with people of color, including Charlene Lyles, a black woman who was fatally wounded by two officers, one of whom Best was suspended for two days for not having a stun gun.
When protests erupted in Seattle in late May, Best’s book states that she faced “the incident commander I left in charge” – then assistant boss Steve Hirjack, whom she does not name – for failing to prepare for the demonstrations. in the city center over the weekend, which attracted thousands of people. clouded by riots. When Khirjak was allegedly unable to answer key questions, Best wrote that she and her then deputy boss (Adrian Diaz) “eventually took responsibility.”
The point of the scene was not “focusing on the person, but a leadership lesson,” Best said this week. “Sometimes you run into situations unexpectedly. In that case, you must decide what to do at this moment. ”
Khirjak has since stated in a lawsuit that he was demoted and declared the scapegoat for the failures of Best and others.
From Best’s description of that meeting with Khirjak on May 30, the book combines events that happened over a week into one day. Part one describes an incident eight days later, on June 7, and cites Best’s only direct reference to authorizing the use of tear gas in response to a man who “drove through the crowd near the precinct, jumped out of a car and fired a pistol. shot. ”
“At that moment, I had no choice but to approve of the use of tear gas,” Best wrote. “Although I was afraid of this decision … I knew it was the only way to avoid tragedy.”
But by then, Seattle police had used tear gas several times, and Best had authorized its use on May 31st. Previous actions prompted police officers to ask the department to stop using tear gas, and Best agreed from June 5 to May 30. daytime ban.
“The city hasn’t used tear gas once – they’ve used it several times,” wrote David Perez, a lawyer representing BLM activists who sued and won a court order banning the SPD from using a gun to control crowds after reading the excerpts. from book. “The free and frankly unconstitutional use of tear gas against our own people is one of the main reasons we felt the need to sue the city in the first place.”
From mentioning the June 7 tear gas incident, Best’s story goes back in time to his decision to call the National Guard and issue a public statement about the ongoing attacks on officers and looting in the city center. Both events took place on May 31st.
East section, revisit
In the chapter on the emergence of a zone of organized protest on Capitol Hill, or CHOP, Best writes that Durcan mistakenly decided to evacuate the Eastern District. Later, Best apologized to Durcan, she wrote, but not before posting a video on the SPD website in which she states that “it was not my decision to leave the site.”
“My main concern… was not to find out who did it, but to reassure my officers and the public that the order to surrender the site did not come from me,” she wrote.
What was missing from the report was that the supervisor’s videotaped statement and the lack of a full explanation from the city authorities subsequently sparked months of speculation about who ordered the evacuation and an investigation by the Police Accountability Office into whether leaving the site violated policy and contributed to the creation of the PSC.
The OPA’s investigation ultimately concluded that this did not happen, despite conflicting details in statements from Best and Assistant Chief Thomas Mahaffy, who actually gave the order to leave the site.
Asked this week why she didn’t publicly identify Mahaffi last year after realizing he’d given the order, Best said, “What’s the difference? Ultimately when the commander makes a decision [and] you are in charge, the money will remain with you. ”
Best’s book describes how Seattle’s officers ultimately removed CHOP, but does not mention either of the two deadly shootouts that preceded its removal.
The book is a complete revision of eight statements that Best published publicly as a leader, occupying 27 pages. But he does offer some details about her behind-the-scenes discussions with Durcan and other officials, whose text messages, along with Best’s messages, later disappeared.
“The book is not meant to say everything,” Best said.
Best’s 2020 report concludes with criticism of the city council for proposing a 50% cut in the police department’s budget in response to protests, arguing that council members repeatedly ignored her suggestions and were at times humiliating and “violently rude” towards her. After the demonstration of protesters outside her house in the Snohomish style, Best told how she publicly posted on August 2 a letter asking the council to “urge an end to this tactic.”
“The result? Nothing,” Best wrote about the council’s response. “And then I reached the point of no return.”
Rather than letting board members make her the “scapegoat for mass layoffs,” Best announced on August 11 that she would retire. “I wasn’t going to let them dictate my legacy,” she wrote.
Protests and write-offs
Lisa Herbold, chair of the council’s public safety committee, challenged Best’s claims during a recent television appearance and in excerpts from books provided by The Times.
Among other things, Herbold relayed a lengthy email showing that she had responded to Best’s letter about protests at her home, and noted that before Best announced her retirement, the council had rejected the proposed 50% budget cut and made a decision instead. by about 18%. reduction, mainly due to the transfer of the parking guard and 911 service from LDS.
“It seems to me that she left not because the council rejected the proposal to reduce by 50%, but to counterbalance any reduction … which would put her in an undesirable position – [the police guild] for the execution of the Council’s budget, ”said Herbold.
Best said this week she had no recollection of receiving an email from Herbold, adding that her book was “not meant to fight the advice.”
“The council has the right to its own opinion,” she said. “They can certainly write their book. This is my book from my point of view. “