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Kathleen O'Toole to step down as Seattle's police chief

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole speaks about her upcoming resignation at Monday's news conference as Mayor Jenny Durkan looks on. (KOMO photo)

SEATTLE - Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole will step down from her post after 3 1/2 years as Seattle's first female top cop, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Monday.

The news came first in the form of a media advisory issued early Monday. Durkan later made the official announcement in a news conference at City Hall.

She said O'Toole will step down from her post effective Dec. 31. Deputy Chief Carmen Best will serve as interim police chief beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

O'Toole said at the news conference that the decision to step down was due more to personal than professional reasons.

"It was a very, very difficult decision for me ... the most agonizing decision of my career," she said, adding that she has the "utmost respect" for Mayor Durkan.

Durkan said the search for a new police chief will begin early next year, and she hopes to have a replacement chosen by spring.

"Appointing a new police chief is one of the most important decisions a mayor can make," she said.

A panel with four co-chairs will coordinate the nationwide search. The co-chairs will be Jeff Robinson, deputy legislative director for thje American Civil Liberties Union; Tim Burgess, former mayor and Seattle City Council chairman of public safety; Colleen Echohawk, director of the Chief Seattle Club; and Sue Rohr, former King County sheriff and now head of the Criminal Justice Training Center for Washington state.

"I'm sure they will bring fresh perspectives and different perspectives on how we move forward," Durkan said. She said the selection process will also involve at least four public community meetings.

An overarching goal will be to continue reforms already begun under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department. "We know the job of reform is not finished," Durkan said.

In addition, she said the city wants to find a new police chief with experience and who will have the respect of the rank-and-file officers.

O'Toole has overseen the Seattle Police Department and its 1,300 officers since July 2014, when she was approved by the City Council and sworn in by former Mayor Ed Murray.

During her tenure, she has dealt with a series of challenges, including Justice Department-ordered reforms, controversial deadly shootings by officers, a surge in South Seattle gun violence and complaints about moonlighting cops.

O'Toole, a one-time Boston police commissioner and former inspector general for Ireland's national police force, was Seattle's first female chief.

In addition, Durkan announced the continued service of Barb Graff, director of emergency management, and Harold Scoggins, chief of the Seattle Fire Department.

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