Murray nominates Kathleen O'Toole as Seattle police chief

If confirmed by the City Council, the former Boston Police Commissioner would be the city's first female chief.
Crosscut archive image.

Nominee O'Toole at Monday's press conference, with current interim chief Harry C. Bailey (at right).

If confirmed by the City Council, the former Boston Police Commissioner would be the city's first female chief.

Former Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole is Ed Murray's choice for Seattle's next chief of police. The mayor made his announcement on Monday morning.

In addition to her time leading Boston's department, O'Toole served for six years as chief inspector for the Irish national police service. If approved by the City Council, she would become the first woman to lead Seattle's police force and the department's first permanent chief since April of last year when then-chief John Diaz retired.

With a federally-mandated reform process underway in the city, the new chief will face big challenges. O'Toole said she hopes to focus on restoring public trust in the department and pride among its officers.

"We have to acknowledge mistakes in the past," she said during a press conference at City Hall. "The mayor has made his vision very clear, and that is that the Seattle police department is to be second to none. And I believe we can accomplish that." O'Toole also emphasized her commitment to innovation and technology and said she would run the department like a business.

"We begin a new page today in policing and public safety in the city of Seattle," Murray said. The Mayor has said repeatedly that selecting a new police chief would be one of the most important choices he would make during his term.

Bruce Harrell, who chairs the City Council committee focused on public safety, said the goal was to complete the police chief confirmation process by the end of June.

O'Toole, 60, joined the Boston police department in 1979. She said her husband, a retired detective who worked for the Boston department, encouraged her to pursue a career in policing. In more recent years, O'Toole has served as a monitor, overseeing a police reform process in East Haven, Connecticut. Her salary at the Seattle Police Department would be $250,000.

A 12-person search committee narrowed the applicants for the job to O'Toole and two other finalists: Elk Grove, California, Police Chief Robert Lehner and Mesa, Arizona, Police Chief Frank Milstead.

Ron Smith, who leads the Seattle Police Officers Guild, and Captain Eric Sano, who heads the Seattle Police Managers Association, which represents captains and lieutenants in the department, were both on the search committee. Both said O'Toole was their first choice for the position. Smith and Sano also agreed that a good way for the new chief to build trust within the department would be to spend time with officers.

"Don't manage from the eighth floor," Sano said. "Get out and meet the people."

Those sentiments were reflected in O'Toole's remarks.

"Police officers who are out there on the front lines, they know best what the challenges are and they usually come up with the best solutions," she said. "No one person can change this organization. It will be a collective, collaborative effort."


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors