SPD chief candidate questioned by councilmembers

SEATTLE -- City leaders are on the verge of hiring the first full-time, female police chief, and Kathleen O'Toole spent her time in a confirmation hearing trying to convince councilmembers why she's the most qualified. It wasn't much of a challenge.

Councilmember Tim Burgess called her a breath of fresh air, and it appears O'Toole is destined to breeze through the confirmation process and become Seattle's next police chief.

O'Toole went before the city's Public Safety Committee today to answer questions, and the public comment at the start was overwhelming positive.

"I want to thank the mayor and all of you, and the search committee, for bringing Ms. O'Toole to Seattle," said Linda Mitchell with the Downtown Residents Council.

"We're really excited to have new direction and we look forward to working with you," added Don Blakeney with the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area.

The next chief will drive ongoing reforms efforts to eliminate excessive force and biased policing problems that led to a federal consent decree. O'Toole said it's among her top priorities.

"It's an agreement," she said. "It's an agreement entered into by the city with the U.S. government, and it's our job now to implement that agreement."

O'Toole reiterated a four-point plan: promising to restore public trust, rebuild officer morale, reduce violence in the community, and run the department efficiently - like a private business.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell says she's likely got his vote.

"She's very capable. She has a lot of people around her that will get her up to speed, so I don't have any reservations at all," he said.

As the former Boston police commissioner, O'Toole has an impressive resume in law enforcement and an international reputation as a reformer. She says she never thought she'd grow up to be a police officer but it's become her life's calling. She hopes to be given the chance to bring that intensity to Seattle.

"I'm here because I really do care about it, and it would be a privilege to serve in this position in this great city," she said.

If there's any blemish on her record, it came while she was the Boston police commissioner in 2004 during a Red Sox celebration, when a police officer trying to subdue a riot accidentally killed a college student.

O'Toole faces another round of questioning next week. If confirmed, she's expected to earn $250,000 a year.