SEATTLE - When Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best announced her retirement Tuesday after the city council slashed the department budget, she said she couldn’t bring herself to fire the young, diverse recruits the department worked so hard to bring in.
The budget cuts, which will save about $3 million for the rest of 2020, will cut the force by about 100 officers. It’s the city council’s first step in a promise made to Black community groups to drastically defund SPD and invest that money in Black communities.
Best, the department’s first Black police chief, said she was brought to tears by an email she received from a Black recruit after he heard about her retirement.
She said it was “really something.” The recruit, Marcus Jones, had said he was ecstatic that he became a recruit under her command.
“Being an African American male, with you as my Chief. Made the fact that I served my country, under The Honorable Barack Obama, that much sweeter!” Marcus Jones wrote to Best.
Jones had served in the Coast Guard and after leaving, worked with REACH, LEAD and the Public Defender Association before being hired by SPD in March, according to SPD.
“I remember meeting him,” Best said. “A great young man, tall, stout, wonderful African American man. And he is one of the people that will probably not keep a job here, and that for me, I’m done, can’t do it.”
Jones said as a recruit, he’s nervous about the impending layoffs. “I know I’m the first one to go if that’s to happen,” he said.
Jones is part of SPD’s push to hire more diverse officers. According to SPD employment data, one in every three recruits and student officers is a minority. For the rest of the force, it’s about one in four.
“Since I was a kid I’ve always known there’s been a distrust with communities of color and law enforcement so that’s exactly why I’m here is to help garner some kind of trust back,” he said.
The city council has said they want to keep more diverse officers employed with the department and has suggested laying off officers out of order to keep more diverse hires intact. The union has already objected to going against seniority order and has demanded to bargain.
Jones has dreamed of being a police officer since he was seven years old. He applied to SPD for five straight years before being hired in March.
“I made it my mission to serve my community with this department and I finally accomplished that mission and I’m not satisfied,” he said. “If I have to go somewhere else I will but ultimately I’m going to end up back here.”
Council staff estimates officer layoffs will be finalized around November, a process the new interim chief, Adrian Diaz, will be tasked with seeing through. Best will officially retire at the beginning of September.