Seattle Police Department welcomes more outsiders to its highest ranks

SEATTLE -- Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole introduced her new leadership team on Wednesday, cementing one of the most sweeping changes to the department's top brass in recent memory.

At a press conference at Seattle City Hall, O'Toole stood alongside four newly-named assistant chiefs, which include two outsiders who will become the department’s newest members.

Robert Merner, a 28-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, and Perry Tarrant, who currently works with the Yakima Police Department, spoke to Q13 FOX in an exclusive interview before Wednesday’s announcement.

Merner, who worked with Chief O’Toole in Boston, said he understands some Seattle police officers may be opposed to outside leadership, but said he hopes to quickly earn their respect.

“I can understand having someone come in from the outside will be a transition for all of them,” he said. “But I think once folks get to know who we are, they’ll realize that policing is no different anywhere else – and real knows real.”

Merner started his career in Boston as a patrol officer and quickly rose through the ranks. O’Toole, who once served as Boston police commissioner, called Merner the “the hardest-working cop in the city” and said she once promoted him herself. She insisted she did not give Merner the job because of their history in Boston and did not realize he had applied until she saw a list of potential candidates.

Merner will serve as the assistant chief of Investigations, replacing former Assistant Chief Robin Clark.

Perry Tarrant will serve as assistant chief of Special Operations and Homeland Security, the post previously held by Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh.

Tarrant is a 34-year veteran of the Tucson, Ariz. Police Department, but had recently moved to Yakima to help with the city’s Gang Free Initiative.

He said being an outsider will allow him to bring in a fresh perspective.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of different capacities, to work at a variety of different organizations as well,” he said.

“It’s an opportunity, number one, for the community to get to know me, and number two for me to get to know this community,” he said. “The difference between when I started my career 30 years ago is I’m coming with a little more experience, my eyes wide open about what the job will entail.”

Merner and Tarrant will join Lesley Cordner and Steve Wilske on the chief’s new leadership team.

Wilske previously served as captain of the Southwest Precinct and has been with the Seattle Police Department of more than 28 years. He will head Patrol Operations, the position vacated by former Assistant Chief Nick Metz, who left the department to serve as the police chief in Aurora, Colo.

Cordner was promoted from the rank of lieutenant and joined the Seattle Police Department in 1989. She has worked in a variety of roles, including the Domestic Violence Unit and the Office of Professional Accountability. Most recently, she served as an aide to Chief O’Toole. Cordner will serve as assistant chief of Compliance and Professional Standards, replacing Assistant Chief Tag Gleason.

“They’re each leaders and innovators who share my drive for progress and my passion for public service as well,” O’Toole said of the newly-created command staff.

The selections come after a months-long search process, during which O'Toole hinted that she was likely to bring in outsiders. O'Toole was an outsider herself when she accepted the chief of police job early last year and said she has been welcomed with open arms.

“I expected there would be a lot more resistant to an outsider, but that hasn’t been my experience at all,” she said. “The community has been very welcoming, the police officers have been very welcoming. I expect that these assistant chiefs will have a similar experience.”