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Does Seattle's Police Chief Deserve a Seat at the State of the Union Address?

Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s department has shown progress over the years. But is it a model for policing nationally?
Police attempt to close a door to block Black Lives Matter protesters from entering Westlake Mall on Black Friday, November, 2015.
Police attempt to close a door to block Black Lives Matter protesters from entering Westlake Mall on Black Friday, November, 2015.REUTERS/David Ryder

One of the fortunate invited guests sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama during the President’s State of the Union address Tuesday night will be Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. After a year of police chiefs in other cities getting sacked for failure after failure to mitigate police violence, the White House hopes to highlight O’Toole as one chief who’s trying to get policing right. With just a year and a half at the Seattle police department’s helm, however, has O’Toole really demonstrated that much progress?

One set of metrics to use in answering that question are the assessments of the federal police monitor, who has been examining police activities in Seattle as part of a 2012 consent decree. The Department of Justice found in 2011 that the Seattle police department had been engaging in a pattern of racial bias and excessive force, a finding that triggered the court-mandated police reforms that O’Toole is helping implement.