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Faded dream: Carmen Best's career aspirations to be Seattle's top cop soured over a few short months

Lewis Kamb, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE -- Two years ago, being the police chief in Seattle was Carmen Best's dream job, a position she had worked toward -- and been groomed for -- for much of her 28-year career with the department.

Since May 25 -- the day a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd -- that dream has faded into something more of a nightmare, and on Monday, Best decided she'd had enough.

Her sudden retirement in the face of controversial budget cuts -- including her salary -- has surprised and angered Best's friends, colleagues, peers and mentors, who believe she got a raw deal or worse at the hands of the city she spent her career serving.

"She has got to be the most talented chief this department has ever had," said Jim Pugel, a retired Seattle Police Department interim chief and friend and mentor of Best. "Those people (the City Council) act like good chiefs just grow on trees."

Best, 55, who grew up in Tacoma and graduated from Lincoln High School in 1983, studied and ran track at Eastern Washington University. She joined the U.S. Army midway through college, serving three years before leaving the military in 1989. She was working for an insurance company when she met her future husband, Larry, a Boeing inspector, and when she decided to test with the Seattle Police Department.

Hired in 1992, Best worked a variety of assignments on her climb through the ranks to the top. Early on, she worked in patrol and school safety before earning promotions under then-Chief Norm Stamper, who assigned Best to her first stint in media relations.

 

"I promoted her to sergeant, and I remember being very impressed by her as having this kind of 1,000-watt personality," Stamper said Tuesday. "She was always up, always positive, always direct, the kind of person who would tell you the truth as she saw it. You can't ask for anything more as a chief, and I thought she was perfect for media relations."

Best continued to ascend, working as a patrol supervisor, a watch commander and an operations lieutenant. She won promotions to command positions in the narcotics unit, in the robbery, gangs and fugitive unit and in community outreach.

Former police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, who also tasked Best with returning to media relations in the mid-2000s, recalled Tuesday that her work ethic and dedication stood out.

"I thought her ability for self-improvement, just rising through the ranks, was always helpful to me," he said. "You can identify people that are on a track to move up in the organization, and you foster that by putting them into different positions."

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