Carmen Best is a U.S. Army veteran and a long-term officer and executive with the Seattle Police Department. She worked in a number of positions, rising to become the first African- American police chief in Seattle.
Carmen worked to reform the police deptrtment under a Consent Decree and was involved in the response during the protesting and rioting follwoing the outrage from the George Floyd death in Minneapolis.
We spoke about
She is the author of Blck in Blue
[00:00:02.830] - Intro
Welcome to the CopDoc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The CopDoc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing communities, academia, and other government agencies. And now please join Dr. Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The CopDoc Podcast.
[00:00:31.490] - Steve Morreale
Well, hello again, everybody. This is Steve Morreale, and I'm coming to you from Boston today. And you're listening to the Cop Talk Podcast. It is growing and I appreciate it. We're gaining listeners from Ireland, from the UK, from New Zealand, from Australia, from Canada, and, of course, from the US. And I'm getting feedback from so many listeners. So thank you. And today I have the honor and the pleasure to talk to a colleague on the other side of the country, on the Left Coast. And we have Carmen Best, the former chief of the Seattle Police Department. And she's sitting outside of Seattle today in her home. So thank you. Good afternoon to you and good morning from here.
[00:01:04.880] - Carmen Best
Hey, well, good afternoon. Thank you so much. Doctor morale. I am absolutely honored to be on your podcast.
[00:01:10.030] - Steve Morreale
I'm not Doctor. I'm Steve to you. I can assure you we're colleagues. So I want to jump in. First of all, you're no longer the chief. What are you doing now? What's keeping you busy?
[00:01:18.000] - Carmen Best
A lot of different things. You're right. I'm no longer the chief. But after spending almost 30 years of policing, I'm still very associated with a lot of the police work and working on it in other ways. I am a contributor to MSNBC for law enforcement issues. I also had the Human and Civil Rights Committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and done a lot of work there. I've done a lot of speaking on police and policing issues, as well as some diversity issues around the country. I have a full time at the moment, a full time work for a private security company and doing some work there, helping them with one of their accounts. And so still staying very close to policing on many fronts, but also adjusting to doing private sector work.
[00:01:58.840] - Steve Morreale
It's crazy, isn't it? So let's talk about your history. When you started in policing, the things that you did for the Seattle Police Department and what you proceeded was by serving in the US Army. Let's start with that.
[00:02:08.560] - Carmen Best
I wrote the book a book, and we may talk about that a little bit later. Black and blue.
[00:02:15.230] - Steve Morreale
Barriers and racial reconciliation. I have it in front of me. So I do.
[00:02:21.570] - Carmen Best
The reason I brought up was in there I talked about some of those experiences from the military, which are very cherished. I think I did a lot of maturing in the three years that I served as an enlisted person in the army. I made great friends, some of which I still have today, even though that was well over three decades ago and really a sense of camaraderie and patriotism that you really develop when you are joining the armed services, whatever they are. That was a great experience for me. I moved from there to a short stint in an insurance company and then onto the police Department.
[00:02:50.070] - Steve Morreale
That's like policing, an insurance company, right?
[00:02:53.130] - Carmen Best
Totally different. I was in the accounting department. Completely different. So then I decided to try for the police department. I really wasn't even sure if I would stay there, if I would like it or what I am. I did. I had a full career and moved through the ranks up to police chief. And so I really enjoyed that career as well. Worked a lot of places in the organization, worked for major city, as you know, being on the East Coast there that there's so many different things that you can do. So there's even a SWAT team or you can be mounted or traffic or harbor lots of different options. I did. I worked at a number of different places while I was there for course patrol and then the DARE officer.
[00:03:29.830] - Speaker 2
Oh, good. I was a DARE officer for a while.
[00:03:35.770] - Carmen Best
I know you have a service as well. And then public information officer, supervisor back in public information, robbery, gang, fugitive, Intel, intel was under me. I just had to have a direct connection to narcotics and chief of investigations, deputy chief of police and the chief of police. So I felt like I had a really wonderful, well-rounded career, didn't do everything that you can do, but did a lot of things in a lot of different areas.
[00:04:02.050] - Steve Morreale
Well, that's good. And so obviously along the way it's interesting too, because when I was with DEA the year I was the PIO for several years. So there's another barrel, as we say. I know. But certainly when you're a PIO and I've heard you on other podcasts that you said you have to immerse yourself and know everything because you're reporting through to the chief so that you've got as much information and you can help them put out the best point of view and not hide except those that we have. It certainly has to both mature you in a lot of ways and round you out.
[00:04:29.630] - Carmen Best
Yeah, absolutely. I really enjoyed being a Pio. It wasn't my lifelong goal. But you learned so much more about the organization from that 30,000 foot view. Because when you're in it as a patrol officer, as I have been before, I knew my area, my Sergeant, what I was doing there, you really weren't as in tune necessarily with all the policy decisions and why and how things interconnect. I got evidence. I filled out the evidence slip, I put it in write your report. Yeah. And that was it, right. So I didn't realize what that system was to get the evidence of the evidence from what happens to the evidence room, all those things. But once you become a Pio, you better know all that stuff because you're going to get questions on it. You need to be able to answer it. You sit in a meeting to understand why policies and decisions are made. In particular. When I worked for Chief Kilakowski.
[00:05:13.180] - Steve Morreale
I remember him. Yeah. My goodness yeah.
[00:05:18.230] - Carmen Best
Wonderful person. So that I write about him also in my book. When I worked for him as a Pio, he had changed the policy to no pursuit policy, and he was one of the first leading people on that. And the officers were griping about it. I might have been one of those officers, but for the fact that I sat in on the meetings and they were talking about the data, the injury, the lawsuits, the harm to people, all of those things that went into making that decision, that less under very specific circumstances. We're just not pursuing cars. Not that they would do it ever, but there's a lot more rules around when you could do it. And so obviously they didn't necessarily get it at the time. They were like, oh, they don't want to do work anymore, but it really wasn't that. And I felt like I had a real I know I would have been stopped the same way, but I've sat in now, and so I felt like that was part of my charges, was to make sure that we were not just talking about what we were doing, but trying to put in the why.
[00:06:10.460] - Steve Morreale
That's an interesting point, sitting in those meetings, it was extremely helpful to you and helped to mold you and make you a better manager and leader in the future because you sat through them. Because one of the things I asked an awful lot of major city Chiefs in the past is how do you make decisions? Where do you gather the information? When is enough, enough? But what you just said is really important wherever you can. And one of my favorite books, I'm looking for it. I don't think it's right here is start with why and whenever possible to explain why. Because it sort of bats back any of the disgruntlement to say this is the reason we're doing it. Wherever you can say, why would you agree? Is that part of how you led?
[00:06:49.010] - Carmen Best
Yeah, absolutely. I wouldn't even have framed it with that. But I was like, in some ways, it's like seek to get buy in. Right. And the way you get buy in is you got people got to understand what you're doing, why you're doing it, and really how, I guess, and the how and how it affects me, you know what I mean? But those things are very important. We have a lot of the people are relatively intelligent. They understand things. So if you start with leash and reasoning, even if they don't agree.
[00:07:12.700] - Carmen Best
They can sometimes at least see understand the point that makes sense.
[00:07:16.060] - Steve Morreale
And that you've actually taken some reason steps I presume we didn't just I was going to say poop out is a bad word, but you know what I'm about to say. But poop out the idea or the directive, I have to say I have the benefit of seeing you on video, even though this is an audio podcast and you look far more relaxed and a lot less stressed than in the past. Would that be an accurate assessment, Carmen?
[00:07:38.780] - Carmen Best
I think yes, it is. It's really funny. Not funny. Ha ha. But funny. I was looking back at some of the photographs from when we were going through chop and all of that, and I looked a lot tireder, I have to say. I mean, I'm getting up there in age, but actually I looked a lot tired and I probably didn't see it or feel it at the time. I was probably really tired that I think about what you that was probably after being up to three in the morning that morning, and then I had this that and the other then you go into a Press conference or whatever you have there that's going so the policing police chief jobs, they're super stressful. And I think they're becoming more stressful as time moves on. I've had that really unique benefit, although I worked in a lot of places within the organization in Seattle, a major city, I also spent a lot of time working for command staff and around command staff. It's just the way my career shaped out. And so I got to see a lot of what Chiefs go through, a lot of the decision making process, a lot of the issues dealing with different Council members and councils and mayors.
[00:08:38.190] - Carmen Best
And it's all different. It's not the same, but there definitely is a lot of input and influence on how things happen with every administration. And I just feel like even over time, it's become even tougher with some of the spotlight that's been shown on policing in a negative way, to be honest with you, to make the Chiefs job even more difficult. And I know you've written about but just that whole political influence on policing and on police Chiefs. And I will tell you, I went to every year at Harvard, a company sponsors a public safety summit, and they bring chief staff from all over the country. Are you familiar with it?
[00:09:14.570] - Carmen Best
Yes. At the JFK School of Government in the criminal justice program.
[00:09:20.060] - Carmen Best
They bring you in over the weekend, usually in this room that's like in the basement of some building, actually. It's like quite secluded. And they just really talk through with the Harvard professors there presenting different issues and talk through different things. And one of the things that they did was they sent all the Chiefs a questionnaire ahead of time to write down all the things that they were dealing with and how they were affecting them. And you all get there and they put it out on there's a word for it, but I just call it an idea bubble, basically a bubble on the green. And it shows all the things that they got. The larger and the darker meant, the more people, more information.
[00:09:51.200] - Steve Morreale
That's a word cloud.
[00:09:52.220] - Carmen Best
A Word cloud.
[00:09:53.340] - Steve Morreale
I got you. I was trying to figure out what you were saying. I know it now.
[00:09:56.990] - Carmen Best
I'll remember to use that terminology. So they had this word cloud up on the board. And what fascinated me was all the things that you would expect to see. There were there robbery, MS 13, gang stuff. All the different crime stuff.
[00:10:10.100] - Steve Morreale
Yeah. All the crimes.
[00:10:11.280] - Carmen Best
And then front and center, true story and dark gold letters, politics. So all the things all of these Chiefs had to deal with, budget, staffing, crime rates, community policing, all the things that they were naming that you would expect to see, the biggest, the largest and most impactful politics. That really resonated with me. And then little did I know that a few years later, the politics really determined was going to have a great impact on my job, really in many ways determine my early departure from policing, from being police chief.
[00:10:42.690] - Steve Morreale
Let's talk about that. Let's get right to that. So here you are. You're running a Department. There is backlash on what happened in Minneapolis and it spreads all over the country, in fact, all over the world, and people are at odds. And virtually every police Department is painted with a toxic rush that everyone is doing what was done to George Floyd. I believe that you and I don't believe that for a moment. Other bad offices, of course. But is it rampant? I don't buy that. But you also were in a Department that was under consent decree and you were trying to dig out of that right. And improve the Department. So let's talk about what you experienced with the demonstrations that turned at times violent. And here you are responsible to maintain peace and security. What was going on with your command staff in trying to deal with something that came out of left field.
[00:11:37.200] - Carmen Best
Yeah. Well, in terms of the multiple demonstrations that occurred after the murder of George Floyd, look, we fully expected there are going to be demonstrations. You called it the left coast at one point, but our left coast knows how to demonstrate. I think it's probably the places on the East Coast as well. So there was no question there were going to be demonstrations after the very public and horrible incident situation. So we expected there to be demonstrations. I mean, that was a gimmick, if you will. The level and the magnitude of the demonstrations was not foreseeable. It just wasn't. And so while we were there, we were just trying to get through and really focus on things, get all awry. And you're trying to figure out what to do as a team, to come together as a team and really set the priorities and they don't change life, safety, incident stabilization and protection of property. So we got to protect people's lives, whether they're demonstrators and officers. All we need to make sure that we're trying to keep people as safe as possible and trying to stabilize these large scale incidents to the point they don't become out of control in a ruling.
[00:12:40.570] - Carmen Best
And then we'll deal with some of the property issues because there's always property damage and all of that. But it's not the highest priority. I had business people that were pretty angry about some of the leading and other things that came about and rightfully so. But that isn't while important, it's very important that we deal with that because crimes are occurring first and foremost. We have to get those people safe enough. In the meantime, cars are burning and fires are in the street. So we had to take care of that first and then deal with some of the other fall out. And I think the next day, after the first set of really tough demonstrations, numbers of people came into downtown and just volunteers. It was really beautiful to see, myself included. I just started cleaning it up and so that occurred.
[00:13:18.600] - Steve Morreale
So let's talk about what's going on today. Before we started, we talked about what's going on in Canada and the Freedom convoy. And I'm sure that there are flashbacks that you're seeing. And it's taken a little while and some I was listening to some news accounts where people were saying, look, when you come in abandoned trucks and block the streets for days on end, you're impacting safety, you're impacting commerce, you're impacting lights. And it looked like it took a little bit of time. Everybody kind of sat back for a little while and let it happen. Now the police are starting to take action. It never looks pretty when you're going to have to say we're towing your car, get out of the car. Somebody resists, they're not complying. And it looks dirty, it looks messy. And there's so much video out there. Now, what is your point of view as you're looking at that from afar?
[00:14:04.260] - Carmen Best
Well, I thought they did, in my view, they did what they were supposed to do. They were mandated to move people out. I think they worked as efficiently as methodically as they could without pulling every incident that happened. But just from a general perspective, I did see parallels with dealing with the Capitol Hill autonomous zone, the Capitol Hill organized protest zone, which was basically the CHOP and the CHAZ in Seattle where they took over six block area. And really a lot of as it lingered, in my view, much more lawlessness was occurring, really had to get a handle on it and fast forwarding a little bit. But one of the things that I know that they were worried about, which I was definitely concerned about, was the optics. There is no way to forcefully take somebody into custody in those circumstances. The optics always work against the police. They just do.
[00:14:51.780] - Steve Morreale
Right when there's any resistance.
[00:14:54.210] - Carmen Best
Yeah, right. And so you want to make sure that to the degree that you can, it never looks pretty, but you want to be able to explain, make sure that people are being calm. I rational and thoughtful. Nobody freelances. That happens almost every time. You get one person who breaks rank and does something that we aren't supposed to do, and you've got to deal with that individual. But to keep it in context, that's an individual thing, not a group. Yes. Organizational group, tactics. So all of that stuff you fully expect. I've been with a lot of Chiefs and seen it happen before. So fully was aware of that with a possibility. But before we cleared out the chop. Very good plan. Hindsight shows that it was a good plan. And we made sure that we took a couple of days, a few days to refresh the training, to make sure everybody was very clear on the mission, to remind people that slow and methodical is the way to go. We don't want to be rash. We don't want anybody pulling out a rank, don't freelance anything. And that time is our ally as we thought they were.
[00:15:46.180] - Carmen Best
They were going to lock arms and put on devices to change the to building or each other. No problem. We have teams there that can dismantle. We don't have to rush to do that. Let's just get it done. If people resist, use your normal tactics, write your reports, just keep the temperature down and make sure that you talk about that well ahead of time so that people have an expectation that there could be these highly tense situations. But we're just going to do what you rely on, our training and our common sense and good practices to get through it. And those are the kinds of conversations we need to have ahead of time in preparation for whatever we might encounter trying to move people out.
[00:16:21.570] - Steve Morreale
So we're talking to Carmen Best, and she's sitting in a suburb of Seattle, Washington, today, and she is the retired chief of police in Seattle. And now doing some security work and doing some consulting work. And one of the things I'm curious about, your own point of view about January 6 incident, when you were watching that, what were you thinking?
[00:16:41.310] - Carmen Best
You know, I was sitting there watching it and I did do some commentary on MSNBC about it, I got to be honest, I was thinking one, I just couldn't believe it was happening. It was a little bit of shock. And the other, it felt to me like the police response to come aid the officers took a long time.
[00:16:57.560] - Steve Morreale
[00:16:57.860] - Carmen Best
I was sitting there, honestly, my mind was saying, where the hell are the cops?
[00:17:01.190] - Steve Morreale
Where are the reinforcements? You're right. Right.
[00:17:02.740] - Carmen Best
Yeah. Reinforcement. Where's the backup? Why are we looking at this?
[00:17:05.800] - Carmen Best
Where's the cavalry almost an hour later, we're still looking at it, right?
[00:17:09.370] - Steve Morreale
Yes. It was a couple of hours. I know
[00:17:12.710] - Carmen Best
where the rest of the cops what was going on here? Obviously, I was looking forward to seeing what happened because I also said there were this group of folks that ended up turning into many of them, maybe not many of them until Mall, but a riot later, but they were marching around the streets there in DC. And I was like, I didn't even see that many cops there. Like, if we have that level of folks that we're going to block streets, we're going to have traffic. I just didn't see a lot of police there. And then it went downhill, as you know, and they started climbing the walls and doing all those other things. And I'm still waiting for it to see, like I keep saying the Calvary, but the Calvary come in and all this mutual aid. And while I did eventually get there, it seemed like an interminable amount of time. And I'm a chief. I have been a chief. And so I know that when you have mutual aid, it often can take a while for people to rally and get there. But usually those decisions and those discussions happen well ahead of time chat, even though nobody wanted to come, a few people did say they would stage some people nearby, so that if we did, if it went really bad, we could call in reinforcements.
[00:18:13.030] - Carmen Best
It was surprising. That's all I can say.
[00:18:14.550] - Steve Morreale
Yeah. It's interesting, too, with my perspective. I think those that were there, both the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police did a good job, but they had a choice to make, and that was preserve life for property. And they had to preserve life first and the property that caused some of the overrun at that point in time. Then they had to work to take that back. Take that back. And you've had that experience. An after action review may be of value there, but we hope that that doesn't repeat itself. Let's go back to the book. I'm looking at the book. Carmen wrote a book called Black and Blue Lessons in Leadership, Breaking Barriers and Racial Reconciliation. One of the things I liked about it was the tactical debrief. First of all, what made you write the book? What made you feel the need to write the book? I suppose that some of the things that alluded to a few minutes ago was that politics came and bit you at some point in time. Maybe that's a bad way of saying, but it certainly played an impact and probably wasn't the way you would choose to do things.
[00:19:04.520] - Steve Morreale
What made you write the book, Carmen?
[00:19:06.150] - Carmen Best
I just really wanted to it's very cathartic. It's very cathartic to get it out in writing, to talk about some of the key points. I mean, there's so much more you can never talk about everything. But some of the key points and key things where I thought there should be some clarity. But also I was being reflective because, look, I spent almost 30 years in policing, which is about half my life at the time. But I also had other things that contributed to making me who I am, that's unicorn in that position, and things I thought I could share with other people, it would be beneficial down the line. None of these stories in here, none of the things that happened are top was pretty unique, but there will be other incidents similar to that.
[00:19:46.710] - Steve Morreale
You've set the precedent.
[00:19:48.270] - Carmen Best
[00:19:50.810] - Carmen Best
Maybe not in a great way.
[00:19:52.080] - Steve Morreale
No, not you personally, but the city of Seattle did. Yes, go ahead.
[00:19:56.290] - Carmen Best
So really talking through some of that, talking about some lessons learned, putting some pointers and questions out there that people can maybe apply to their own life, I thought would be helpful. And it certainly was Catholic for me to get some of that out ahead of time and just sort of tell your story. Yes, really. And again, not every little bit of it, but lots of parts of it. I talked about way back when I was little and little girls all the way coming through my military experience and experiences on the Department, my real belief and support for mentors and sponsors and allies and how those individuals and groups in my life helped me, how that can help others, how we all have our own circle of influence that can help us. And I thought, well, it's my story. I think that much of it translates to other people. And so that's the tactical debrief that we have at the end of the chapters, that's really what that's all about. Reflect on your own. How does that apply to you? How could you use this lesson learned? What would you do? What would you do differently or the same?
[00:20:49.910] - Carmen Best
So there's more than one way to go about getting things done. And so that was really what it was.
[00:20:56.860] - Steve Morreale
One part of the story is striking to me, and I think part of what you're saying is that we all have a lived experience, whatever that is. And so for you, it's twofold. Let me just set the table for context. When I went to the MP school at the same place that you went to your basic Fort McLaren, Alabama, my company was the first to accept women, which was very weird. And five of them went. And so I came into certainly as a male and a very heavily male dominated profession as an MP, but women had an uphill battle. And so in my mind, you were one of the first, maybe the second round of women in policing. So there had to be some resistance and pushback and some things you had to get through and an African American woman on top of that. Talk about that and talk about how that helped you grow. I truly believe that most of us, if we've survived this, have calluses in places that we don't want calluses because of what we experience, if you know what I mean. But those calluses make us stronger and almost protect us.
[00:21:55.500] - Steve Morreale
I'm sorry to be vile anyway, but talk about that experience and how it changed you, how it helped create you as a better leader.
[00:22:03.190] - Carmen Best
Yeah. Well, I think I talk in the book about my experience. I'm not sure which one specifically you're talking about, but I definitely talk about going through the Academy. I know it's a modern term in some ways, but being that unicorn, the African American woman, there weren't very many in the policing profession, and then there were a few in Seattle, but some places hadn't had any. And I went through that, and it was very clear, very self evident that some not all, but some other people just didn't want to see me make it through simply because they probably have their own biases. And I don't even think they were racial so much as they were gender. Yes, absolutely. About the gender. They just were having struggling a bit to see women in the job. And I was at that time, very petite. I was fit, but very petite. And so even that became an issue. And people commented on it quite frequently. And I just kept going. Someone said, give a piece. If you had any advice to give the young women, what would it be? And I always give different things. But one of the things I say to people is keep going, don't give up.
[00:23:01.380] - Carmen Best
Yeah, that's it. Trials, tribulations, haters all that. But at the same time, you're also going to have people who will help you and support you, people who come out of nowhere. And I'm saying men, women, black, white and in between, on either side of that issue, I had so many people who were helpful to me that were male, who were in the organization. I wanted to make sure that I was successful, saw something in me that were helpful. And I had others, not so much. So it runs the gamut. The idea is that find the folks who can help you learn from those who challenge you in many ways. I always say every challenge is an opportunity. Sometimes you don't want quite as much of those challenges, but it does help make you who you are. And as you say, we all have some level of lived experience, somebody who tried to undermine us or backstab us or whatever. But we also I think we all have people who helped us, who came around, rallied with us and helped us March through. And anybody who's successful in any way has that group. They found that group, usually through a mentor and ally or sponsor that helps them through.
[00:24:02.300] - Carmen Best
And people who say they've met successfully did it all on their own. It just doesn't happen. It just doesn't happen. So I try to translate some of that. Some of my experiences so other people can translate into their own experiences and how that can help build them.
[00:24:14.860] - Steve Morreale
One of the things I say that might be a piece of Sage advice not to you, but to others that I have contact with is when somebody kind of gives you a heads up that they don't like something you're doing, in other words, they give you that. I say, thank you. Thank you for opening up. Thank you for telling me that I need to keep my guard up with you. I appreciate that very much. And I will avoid you at all costs. In other words, I think what you're saying is and this is a life experience, and that is surround yourself with people who will help you, not detract from you, not to drag you down.
[00:24:42.850] - Carmen Best
Right. And often people who help you sometimes don't always agree with everything. I have wonderful friends and partners and people that I've had on my command staff. We got along great. We didn't always agree on everything. We certainly talked about our thoughts on things and the why we thought what we were thinking. But we come out for the most part as a unified front to deal with whatever.
[00:25:01.100] - Steve Morreale
So from a leadership standpoint, in your experience, I have so many questions. I'm writing so many things down because of what you say. I want to talk about reform. I want to talk about 30 by 30. I want to talk about policing as a profession. But your style of leadership and where that came from and how you customized it from some of the people you worked with, the good and the bad, and how you moved forward, how you ran meetings, how you engaged people so that you could get feedback from everyone, including detractors or including people who were not going to tell you you look great today, Carmen, when in fact you look like shit. And I don't mean that you do. But in other words, to be so honest and candid with you that you're not going to make a mistake, they're not going to hide the ball, they're going to give you information so you can make a decision. So talk about that. How did you evolve that way?
[00:25:46.590] - Carmen Best
Some of it was just like you said, learning from others over time. And I always say it sounds so cliche, but I do mean it starts at home, your home environment, the things, the way you brought up, the way you value others. It matters. Sometimes you have to pick that up. Sometimes it isn't within people's homes, so they have to pick that up from other sources. But that matters. So always valuing other people, not necessarily having to agree with everybody, but valuing them as on a human level so that you can have those conversations. And so you're not going to do any police chief is going to have to have some of that, because oftentimes you'll go into a meeting and everyone in that meeting is mad at you for different reasons, for different things. And you actually know, I'm going to present this, and probably nobody's going to be super happy with it, but this is where it needs to go, and this is why. And so I had that a number of occasions, again, watching others picking up from what others picking up information from other leaders, things that worked well, things that didn't work well.
[00:26:37.200] - Carmen Best
And all of them had their huge supporters and their huge detractors. And I watched different teams through that in different ways. That's why I talk about situational leadership so much, because it's always depending upon who you're dealing with in the circumstances. You may have to adjust your style a bit to get through what you need to get through.
[00:26:54.340] - Steve Morreale
Again, we talked a little bit about sociopolitical impact in criminal justice and area there, but then I'm writing an area that we may write on together. How did politics impact you?
[00:27:03.440] - Carmen Best
Oh, in so many ways. I was thinking I was trying to just even narrow it down to some one thing. But there were so many ways that politics influence what was happening. For one, there was a murder of George Floyd, all the subsequent riots that were happening. The crowd dispersal orders, like the crowd, had become a riot situation where it was too dangerous. And we had a Department with the full sworn staff was authorized, just over 1400, but we didn't have that many. That's how many were authorized. And that's everybody. So if we pulled out most of our people, let's say 900, that would be what we would have in crowds that were swelling up of 1011 thousand people. So the ability to really control that in real life is very difficult and challenging. And so that's why you have mutual aid to help augment your resources. But even then, we had nowhere close to the number of people that had assimilated. And so it can be a pretty volatile situation. And I will say this, and I said this many times before because people get so offended. It's like many of the people were not violent because the people who are there, who are just we were just there to protest.
[00:28:06.920] - Carmen Best
I know that there were thousands of people who were just there to protest. We get that. We acknowledge it upfront. But let's be clear. There were also people that were there with bad and ill intent, and somehow that seemed to not get any attention. I don't know why I'd have people that were meeting people who were there. They said, yeah, you saw this happen, but you did see that this crowd that this group of folks were throwing rocks, right? You did see that, but that seemed to get very little attention. It was always like the police, innocent people. And I thought, that's not a fair narrative we did to use tear gas. And maybe in hindsight, we could have done it differently. But obviously we're concerned about life, safety, and protecting the circumstances around it. I'll take those knocks and those criticisms, but I want you to acknowledge that we also were under attack.
[00:28:56.370] - Steve Morreale
Can we not protect ourselves? But I think that that's what politicians sometimes said, give them space, back up. And the optics of that from somebody who has a law and order perspective is just mind boggling, don't you think?
[00:29:07.750] - Carmen Best
Yeah. So the politics of it were very tough. So the next day we read the paper, police, tear gas, innocent demonstrators. And I was like, okay, that's not an accurate story. So there was that. And then there was a lot of conflict. I write about that. But we didn't want to open up the street to the demonstrators, to be right in front of the precinct. And there was other political agendas there to move people. And we didn't want to move the barricades. We didn't want to move the barricades. Long discussions. Ultimately, we ended up moving the barricades and then evacuated the precinct. And then we have chopped. But politics influence that. Politics influenced the ability for our hiring, for our recruiting, and for they jumped onto this mantra of defunding.
[00:29:46.000] - Steve Morreale
May I interrupt you? Was that the tipping point for you when you were being told you need to cut and you have a responsibility to keep people safe, and you're saying, I can't do that?
[00:29:54.670] - Carmen Best
It definitely was. I mean, I can remember I talked about all the things I was thinking about. But with this whole movement, one of the things I asked for, because you said you don't want to necessarily discount everything. I go, well, maybe they're right. Maybe they see something I don't see. And so, okay, what's the plan? What is it that you think we can do?
[00:30:11.620] - Steve Morreale
Sounds like you were shut out at one point in time.
[00:30:13.670] - Carmen Best
Yeah. So what are you going to do to help? I never heard the plan. I never listened. I still haven't seen the plan.
[00:30:20.790] - Steve Morreale
You're still waiting?
[00:30:20.790] - Carmen Best
A great mantra with no substance and no teeth behind it, honestly. And so since subsequent to that, they want me to lay off all these officers, which I definitely did not want to do because I thought one was not safe, and two, it undermined our diversity and recruiting hiring that we had just recently done.
[00:30:36.640] - Steve Morreale
And all of the gains, but all of the gains that you had moving through the consent agree, getting better.
[00:30:41.400] - Carmen Best
Yeah. And it was going to take us back, not forward in that regard. And then I thought about it, too. I didn't want to be the first African American chief woman that the legacy is that she came in and within a year they had less minorities.
[00:30:56.070] - Steve Morreale
[00:30:56.590] - Steve Morreale
She destroyed the whole department. But it wouldn't have been you. But it would have been on you.
[00:31:01.550] - Carmen Best
Yes. You have hit the nail on the head there, Dr. Morreale, I was going to say that because that's exactly what it is. It wouldn't have been me, but it definitely would have been on me. It was shown out to be my legacy and couldn't have that. And by the way, if they went through, which they ultimately did not go fully come through, but if they had gone through with that firing and terminating the jobs of all those officers, how are you going to fight crime? It was completely predictable that crime would go up and we'd have more problems because we have less officers and no plan to resolve those crime issues. And then I would be responsible for that. They were setting you up for failure. At some point, you have to draw a line in status day by your conviction. This job, it means a lot to me, but it doesn't mean enough to me to do that.
[00:31:42.610] - Steve Morreale
I applaud you for that. That's admirable to say that to stand on principle and to stay with your core values and making decisions like that, that was hurtful for you for a while. What am I going to do now? You've bounced back quite well. There's still opportunity for you. I can feel it. I can sense it. But I do understand that's a tough decision that you had to make many, many months ago, right?
[00:32:01.210] - Carmen Best
Yeah. It was really difficult. I think that the guy who's in there now is doing a great job, and hopefully, like everything else, the baton is handed and you move on. You run your part of the race. People asked recently about going back to Seattle and like, yeah, that door is closed. That was a very interesting opportunity because it was a challenge. But now that door is closed in time for the next set of folks to come in and do their job. Right.
[00:32:22.840] - Steve Morreale
Is there still a possibility for Carmen Best to be a chief in another place? Because Seattle means so much to you, but do you have enough oomph? Do you have enough zeal? Do you have enough desire to get back into the race?
[00:32:35.800] - Carmen Best
Because I don't rule anything out.
[00:32:37.620] - Steve Morreale
[00:32:38.020] - Carmen Best
Right. It's not for me. Right at the very moment.
[00:32:40.060] - Steve Morreale
[00:32:40.380] - Carmen Best
Although I said that before, but when New York came knocking on the door, I was like, I would love to go there.
[00:32:45.260] - Steve Morreale
How can you say no?
[00:32:46.730] - Carmen Best
It didn't work out, but that's fine. So I wouldn't rule anything out. It's not what I'm focused right at this very juncture. That's fine. But I'm still very close to the job and talking about the job of promoting the job and close to a lot of police officers and certainly still a heavily engaged in Noble National organization for black law enforcement executives. Great organization and ICP, and still very connected to a lot of police organizations because it meant a lot to me.
[00:33:11.780] - Steve Morreale
It's in your blood. Yeah, it's in our blood forever. I do understand that. I do. I'm going to throw a curveball at you. I'm going to start to wind down. But there's a few other things I want to throw at you. Questions. This is a touchy subject, but what about the federal, state or the federal and local police rift at times that seems to be driven not by police but by politicians. Seattle, we don't want you to work with immigration. We don't want you to support protecting the federal buildings. That's not your job. Did you find that as conflicting?
[00:33:38.080] - Carmen Best
Very much so. And that's, again, just what you talked about, the politics, it's all politics.
[00:33:42.830] - Steve Morreale
A badge is a badge. That's the way I've always seen it, right?
[00:33:45.180] - Carmen Best
Absolutely. And that was very uncomfortable for me. I mean, I had to tell certain folks, immigration, they can come into our building that was approved by me. They could not come on to our facilities.
[00:33:56.620] - Steve Morreale
And that was not your decision. I mean, you're going to say to another person with a badge, hey, you can't come unless I tell you.
[00:34:02.580] - Carmen Best
But it's because that was policy. That was policy. That was politically driven.
[00:34:06.770] - Steve Morreale
[00:34:07.080] - Carmen Best
You know what I mean? Yeah. The politics, all the issues around immigration and the cities, I'm trying to think of the word here. The open cities.
[00:34:15.790] - Steve Morreale
Yes. Safe cities, safe cities.
[00:34:17.330] - Carmen Best
Thank you. And all of that. A lot of those discussions are more political than they are legal about law enforcement stuff. Politics will drive the answers to some of that.
[00:34:27.120] - Steve Morreale
You know what you just gave me? Think about covet, think about COVID, and all of a sudden it was not on your watch. But now covet and police are responsible to enforce not law but policy masks. How confounding. And it seems to me that police agencies get put into a pickle where I get called and hey, you got to tell that lady to put her mask on. What?
[00:34:45.840] - Carmen Best
Yeah. I mean, that was a very fine line. And again, under pressure, they certainly wanted to make we had to clear out the parks. They didn't want people in the parks because everybody's supposed to be on lockdown. People have been locked down for several weeks and days, and we're trying to get outside a little bit. And they weren't supposed to be there and all this stuff. And I don't want my cops out there yanking the kids off the swing set because it was hard. I wasn't alone. A lot of teams were struggling. Depending upon who your city manager, Mayor was, or governor, you're kind of caught in a quandary. Easy for me to say, but it is a real quandary because we want to uphold the law. But this is really where we want to spend our time, focused on people that were not wearing masks.
[00:35:27.230] - Steve Morreale
I think we're watching the remnants of that in Canada for the exactly the same reason. Like enough. So anyway, let me move on to something else. Is policing in your mind? A profession, and if so, why do so many people look at it as a blue collar job?
[00:35:39.950] - Carmen Best
I think it has transitioned to a profession. We talked about the different areas of policing, the political era that came into the professional era, and I think it's much more profession than it is a blue collar job. When you think about what these officers have to know, the rules, the regulations, the laws and how they're changing, how they're often dictated by court and the public and where we are as a society, it's not a job where you can just get in there and forget my terminology here would be a knuckle dragger. You have to have a high level of understanding, be able to comprehend and also be able to do that and also be compassionate and caring and all of those things that come into it. It is a profession as much as anything else, any other profession. It is a profession. And while often many agencies don't require a degree to come in, they do take you through a lot of training a lot. And you can only make it if you can do this, if you can understand it and do it because that's what you're tested. Right.
[00:36:35.870] - Carmen Best
To make sure.
[00:36:36.590] - Steve Morreale
I remember those tests.
[00:36:38.230] - Carmen Best
Yeah, I know in Seattle as well. I'm sure many other agencies, many people do have agreed, the vast majority, not everybody but the mass.
[00:36:45.520] - Steve Morreale
Let me ask you this. Would it be fairly true to say that you can get into the Department without a degree, but you are not going to move up very high without a degree? Is that a fair state?
[00:36:54.350] - Carmen Best
Oh, I'll say it's much more challenging for sure without it. And many people come on, they start the job, they learn what they need to learn and learn the laws and the rules, and they get their degree. I didn't have my degree coming in an apartment, but I have a master's degree now.
[00:37:08.560] - Steve Morreale
Look at you, big shot.
[00:37:11.070] - Carmen Best
I'm not a PhD.
[00:37:12.370] - Steve Morreale
No, it's okay.
[00:37:14.130] - Carmen Best
Not yet anyway. But the whole thing is we'll continue to grow and evolve, and we want people to be smart and thoughtful. I do see this as a profession and not blue collar work, although I know it started that way. But we're still, I think, in the evolution of moving it to where people recognize it as a profession.
[00:37:30.170] - Steve Morreale
I think, too, because policing, you're dealing with people who are homeless to people who are in the C suites on the same shift. And so that's a pretty wide range of people to have to deal with. Carmen, one of the programs and I've got Maureen McGuff coming on the program fairly soon is 30 by 30. You're familiar with that by 2030, there's a push to raise the number of women in policing to 30% by 2030. What's your thought about that? Good idea, or do we have enough women out there? I'm being a wise guy.
[00:37:58.170] - Carmen Best
I think it's a great idea.
[00:37:59.510] - Steve Morreale
I do, too.
[00:38:00.700] - Carmen Best
I think the IACP is taking on that initiative.
[00:38:02.940] - Steve Morreale
Yes. They're one of the players.
[00:38:04.200] - Carmen Best
It's really important. It's really important to have all of our professions reflect better, reflect our community and women in general. Add a certain perspective, if you will, to the job. I can't say that men aren't professional or compassionate, because they certainly are. I think women inherently add more of that to a job that really needs it. Do they have a basic level of understanding that they can relate to, that maybe a man can address it and deal with it and be very good at it, not necessarily relate to it in the same way. And it's great that we have that ability to have more people and more perspectives come into what we're doing, because as you said, we're dealing with everybody from the homeless person to the C suite. Right. And everything in between. And so the better, more rounded we are as a profession, the better we are able to laid and to help people when we need to.
[00:38:52.370] - Steve Morreale
So reform is coming. We got body cams. I think it's going to push out the issues of Privacy. We have the use of drones and all of these kinds of things. What three things? If you come in as a consultant and you're looking at an organization, what are the three things that you think are so important for police to focus on and to improve?
[00:39:11.550] - Carmen Best
Well, I'm going to reach broadly here, but it has to be here's what I think that needs to be done, that there has to be broadly a mission that involves community, that you have to have your policies and procedures all in place to reflect that mission, and that you have to get you have to hold people accountable. Accountability is huge and transparency, those are really broad things. But without it, this climate, you're not going to survive. You've got to have the right policy every time somebody does something. What is their policy as a rule? We have very good policies. We've trained on those policies. Everybody knows them, and we hold people accountable to them because the policy is not even what the paper is written on. If nobody cares to it right holds people accountable and does it in a transparent way, whether that's through civilian committees or combination. I mean, there's all sorts of forms of that, but there has to be transparency in there. And then when you do that, in a general sense, you're going to do well. And then I would say some of the more specificity of using technology, all the issues around Privacy that come into place.
[00:40:09.300] - Carmen Best
Body worn cameras are here. They're having next generation body warned cameras. Drones are here in car video is here. Biometrics is here, and they're using it in so many other professions. And as it becomes more viable and better, they do more research and make it better. We should be able to use the resources and the tools that are there to help our profession. We shouldn't shy away from critics, bring the critics on, but know that we're doing this. I'm trying to make things easier, more streamlined, hold people more accountable, make ourselves more transparent. There are ways to do that. I think that's going to affect policing because I know in Seattle they're working on connectivity, making sure that officers are connected with communities and meaningful ways to do that. All the officer wellness issues about it's relatively a long career, but it's a different career even now than it was from when I started and when you started. So how are we going to get that longevity built in the environment that we're in with politics and all the other things? So really working on office to wellness and well being and taking time out and ways to manage your stress and those things are so much more part of policing in the future that they haven't been before.
[00:41:12.900] - Steve Morreale
I just read Carmen - we're talking about Carmen Best, who is the former chief of Seattle. We're talking to her today as she sits in the outskirts of Seattle. But one of the things I just heard was that they are beginning to try sabbaticals for police officers, which is just an amazing thought. In other words, take a three month respite and recharge, which I think is pretty interesting. I've got the wind down. And my last question would be, if you had a chance to sit down with anybody dead or alive, who's inspirational to you, who would that be? Whose brain might you want to pick?
[00:41:42.970] - Carmen Best
Oh, my goodness. Those are great questions. Almost impossible to answer because there's so many people's brains that want to pick up so many different fronts. If I could bring somebody back to life, though, it would be my mother.
[00:41:52.650] - Steve Morreale
Yeah, that's great. Why?
[00:41:54.470] - Carmen Best
Because I loved her. She believed in me from the beginning, nurtured me, raised me, taught me good values, involved me in faith and our faith and really has that kind of love that they want the best for you under all circumstances, unconditional, truly. I don't know if you're a parent.
[00:42:10.040] - Steve Morreale
[00:42:10.750] - Carmen Best
Yeah, me too. And you know, that what goes into that's a lot of work. Yeah. And so I can say that there are so many people I would love to talk to about how they made decisions, how they made it through, how they fought through the civil rights or whatever it is. The list is long and deep, but there's somebody I could bring back just to talk to, for comfort, for assurance, for that kind of thing.
[00:42:30.500] - Steve Morreale
And to run what happened in your life by her again. I appreciate that. So listen, as we wind down, Carmen Best is here, and I'm going to ask you in your own words, do you have hope for the future of policing?
[00:42:43.890] - Carmen Best
Absolutely. We're going through an evolution, a little bit of a change here. The pendulum is swinging one way and it's kind of swinging back to being a little more moderate. But society needs police officers. They need people who are there to help us abide by the rules, have that social contract about what we want to see. And as it evolves, policing will evolve. But I think the future is really good. I think these discussions are good. Now we have things. Ten years ago, I never even heard of a podcast. It just wasn't on my radar. Now you're listening to podcasts or getting information from other resources. We're able to have these really important discussions. People can tune in at any time and listen to you, listen to me and others and get a real understanding. And that only helps advances.
[00:43:23.030] - Steve Morreale
And it's not two minute clips, right, or 3o-second clips, right.
[00:43:26.510] - Carmen Best
It's not a sound bite right, that you can't control. So with that, all of these things, as we evolve, as fighting more and more tools in our tool chest, so to speak, Lisa is going to evolve with it. And please, he's going to definitely survive this. It'd be a good place.
[00:43:38.920] - Steve Morreale
Great. Thank you. Carmen. Thanks so much for your time, for your input. You are inspirational, I have to say, and a thought leader, which is what I aim for in this podcast. I appreciate it. I'd love to talk to you again soon. So thank you very much for being here.
[00:43:51.040] - Carmen Best
It too. Thank you so much.
[00:43:52.790] - Steve Morreale
This is Steve Morreale from Boston. You've been listening to the copdoc podcast. Thanks again, and we hope to see you on the next episode. Hey, everybody, a few things before you leave. First, thanks for listening.
[00:44:02.490] - Steve Morreale
I'm so gratified to see the downloads rising in the last few months, not only from the US, but from across the globe. It's surprising and humbling to find students, colleagues, and practitioners listening. We have a growing number of listeners in Canada, Ireland, England, Northern Ireland, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and Colombia. We appreciate your time and energy and welcome feedback. Please feel free to reach out to me by email at Copdock Podcast@gmail.com. That's email@example.com. Check out our The CopDocPodcast.com. Please take the time to share a podcast with your friend if you find value in the discussions. We've had so many amazing guests and more to come who have shared their wisdom, their thoughts, their viewpoints, and their innovative ideas. Most importantly, a huge thank you to those of you who show up for work in policing every day, not knowing the kinds of calls that you'll be sent on or the kinds of situations you'll find yourself in, you risk your lives for people, many of whom you don't know. And for that, we owe you a debt of gratitude. A big thanks. Hope you stay safe, healthy, and look forward to hearing from you and hope you'll continue to listen to upcoming episodes of The CopDoc Podcast thanks very Much.
[00:45:08.680] - Outro
Thanks for listening to The CopDoc Podcast with Dr. Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into The CopDoc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.