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June 23, 2014 at 3:41 PM

Kathleen O’Toole confirmed as Seattle police chief

O'Toole awaits the confirmation vote in Seattle Council chambers on Monday. (Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

O’Toole awaits the confirmation vote in Seattle Council chambers on Monday. (Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

In an 8-1 vote, the City Council today confirmed Kathleen O’Toole to serve as chief of the Seattle Police Department.

O’Toole, who was nominated by Mayor Ed Murray on May 19 after a nationwide search, became the first woman to be selected for the job on a full-time basis. She previously served as Boston’s first female police commissioner from 2004 to 2006.

O’Toole, 60, appeared at council chambers for the vote, then left to be sworn in at another location in City Hall.

Council member Kshama Sawant cast the sole vote against confirmation, citing concern about O’Toole’s stated intention of running the department like an efficient business. Sawant said businesses are not accountable to people.

The council also voted 8-1 in favor of O’Toole’s salary, $250,000 a year, and up to $40,000 in moving expenses. Sawant again voted no.

O’Toole replaces Interim Chief Harry Bailey, who was named to the position in January when Murray took office.

O’Toole was confirmed after undergoing three hearings before the council’s public-safety committee, including a public meeting in South Seattle. The committee voted 5-0 on June 12 to recommend her appointment.

She will immediately take over a beleaguered Seattle department, which has been operating for two years under a federal consent decree to curtail excessive force and biased policing.

Just last week, the federal court monitor overseeing the agreement reported that the department had made significant strides.

But monitor Merrick Bobb said the reforms will require additional building blocks, including a new computer system to fully track progress, more sergeants on the street and a broader acceptance of change throughout the department. Bobb cited the recent federal lawsuit filed by more than 100 officers, detectives and sergeants seeking to block new use-of-force policies mandated under the 2012 consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Much work remains to ensure that the objectives and goals of the Consent Decree have been understood and internalized by all officers — whether command staff or the rank and file,” his 95-page report said in a conclusion that underscored the challenges facing O’Toole.

At the same time, Bobb and his monitoring team reported that Murray has shown a willingness to take on “hard issues” and fulfill the requirements of the consent decree.

O’Toole, who’s pledged to make the reforms a top priority, has said she plans to evaluate the senior command staff, which has been repeatedly shaken by retirements, changes and scrutiny in the last year. Murray has asked her to bring in at least one outside assistant.

O’Toole glided through the confirmation process, emphasizing four themes: restoring public trust; rebuilding pride inside the department; improving the quality of life and reducing crime in neighborhoods; and operating the department as an effective and efficient business.

After leaving the commissioner job in Boston, O’Toole served from 2006 to 2012 as chief inspector of the national police in Ireland in the wake of a major corruption scandal. Most recently, she has worked as a law-enforcement consultant.

O’Toole began her police career in 1979, joining the Boston Police Department as a patrol officer. She spent seven years there before holding various public and private jobs in Massachusetts, including that of secretary of public safety and lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Police.

Seattle once had a female police chief, Bertha Landes, but she lasted only a few days in that office.

As Seattle City Council president in 1924, Landes was acting mayor while Mayor Edwin Brown was in New York City for the Democratic National Convention.

She wielded her temporary powers to fire Police Chief William Severyns after accusing the Police Department of collusion with bootleggers and gambling joints. Naming herself acting chief, she then ordered a campaign to shut down vice activities.

The action was reversed when Brown, alerted by a telegram, boarded a train home to resume his duties.

Landes went on to serve as Seattle’s first and only woman mayor.

Today’s ceremonial swearing in of O’Toole was expected to take place in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at City Hall.

RELATED:  Interactive timeline: Recent turnover at the helm of SPD

Comments | More in General news, Government, The Blotter | Topics: Kathleen O'Toole, Seattle City Council, Seattle Police Department

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