By Deanna Paul and Dan Frosch 

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said she would be stepping down from her post following votes by the city council to cut the department budget, including her own salary, and reduce the police force, as part of an effort to reform policing.

Ms. Best, the city's first Black police chief, is the latest in a string of high-profile chiefs to depart following sometimes violent protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Since the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, top law-enforcement officials in Portland, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Louisville have cut short their tenures as calls to overhaul police department policies and basic functions mounted.

"I think the current rush to reform the police through dramatic budget cuts and calls to eliminate police departments has left chiefs throughout the country in untenable situations," said Frank Straub, a top official with the National Police Foundation, a law enforcement think tank, and a former chief in Spokane, Washington.

In Chicago this past weekend, some residents looted stores following a police shooting of a 20-year-old man who officers said fired on them first. Increasingly violent protests around Portland's federal courthouse stopped once federal agents mostly withdrew from the city last week, but a smaller group committed property crimes in the nights since. Protesters set fire to an occupied building that houses Portland's police union headquarters Saturday night in what police declared a riot.

Such events pose particular challenges to police in predominantly liberal cities where calls have increased to spend less on law enforcement and to reduced the use of force.

"When you have people hellbent on destruction, the police have to find the best way to respond," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington D.C. think tank that advises departments on best practices and policy. He said police sometimes needed to use tear gas or weapons such as batons to curb violence, tactics that have drawn criticism from protesters in the past few months.

Portland police declared a riot last week and used tear gas to dispel protesters gathered outside a city police station.

The continuing violence -- and a recent jumps in homicides -- also have caused difficult conversations among activists, according to Cameron Whitten, co-founder of the Black Resilience Fund, an emergency fund for Black Portland residents that was started after Mr. Floyd's death.

"Now there are Black leaders who have rallied for a refunding of the police]," said Mr. Whitten.

Portland Police Chief Jami Resch stepped down earlier this summer as criticism over her handling of the protests increased. Weeks later, the city council approved a multimillion-dollar reduction in the department budget and Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a 19-point plan to overhaul policing in the city.

In Seattle, Ms. Best, who stepped in as interim chief in 2018, previously opposed calls by city council members to cut the department's budget by as much as 50%. On Monday, the day after she described to them her vision for the future of policing in Seattle, including how to handle funding reductions, council members voted to cut her $294,000 salary by $20,000. The vote also reduced the department's budget of $170 million for the remainder of the fiscal year by nearly $4 million. That will result in the loss of about 100 officers from a force of about 1,400 and less money for recruitment, training and specialized departments.

The chief said at a press conference Tuesday that the cut in her salary "felt very vindictive and very punitive," adding that she didn't want the police force to be affected by "the animus directed toward me."

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan praised Ms. Best for addressing flare-ups in gun violence, diversifying the department and reducing its use of force. "They targeted Carmen Best," Ms. Durkan said at the press conference. "It was so mystifying to see the city council plow ahead without listening to her pleas."

City Council President M. Lorena González said in a statement Monday that the budget changes were a response to calls for racial justice and investments in minority communities. Along with the police cuts, the city council agreed to invest $17 million in community-led safety efforts.

In a statement Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr praised Ms. Best and said, "This experience should be a lesson to state and local leaders about the real costs of irresponsible proposals to defund the police."

Write to Deanna Paul at and Dan Frosch at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 11, 2020 19:12 ET (23:12 GMT)

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