Carmen Best will retire as Chief of the Seattle, Wash. Police Department (SPD) on September 2, 2020. As Police Chief, Best managed 1,400 police officers and was in charge of maintaining court-ordered reform to limit excessive police use-of-force and improve relationships with the local community. She was the first African-American woman to lead Seattle’s police department.
Born and raised in Tacoma, Wash., Best graduated from Lincoln High School in 1983. After high school, she attended Eastern Washington University, then joined the U.S. Army and served three years in South Korea. In 1989, Best left the Army to work as Account Processor at Aetna Insurance, where she then enrolled in the police academy.
For 26 years at the police department, Best served in roles, including patrol, school safety and media relations, patrol supervisor, watch commander and operations lieutenant.
Prior to assuming the role of Chief of Police on August 13, 2018, Best was Deputy Chief, where she oversaw the Patrol Operations, Investigations and Special Operations Bureaus, as well as the Community Outreach section. Although there have been nationwide protests against police after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn. as well as divide over policing and budget cuts to the police departments, Best was one of the first police chiefs to describe Floyd’s death as murder.
Recently, the Seattle Police Department created the Collaborative Policing Unit, which encourages community partnerships – something she is most proud of. “The SPD is not apart from, but a part of the City and its people. We also now focus many of our recruiting efforts on the neighborhoods of Seattle, so that increasing numbers of our new officers come from the diverse communities we serve,” Best said.
In addition, Best has completed training at the Senior Management Institute for Police, the FBI National Executive Institute (NEI), the FBI National Academy, the Criminal Justice Executive Leadership Academy and the Major Cities Chiefs Association Police Executive Leadership Institute. She holds a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University.
Best also serves as Chair of the Human and Civil Rights Committee (HCRC) for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the IACP Board of Directors, serves on the National Law Enforcement Exploring Committee, and is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and the National Latino Police Officers Association (NLPOA).
In 2015, Best received the Newsmaker of the Year award from the Seattle Black Press. In 2019, she received the Vision from the Mountaintop award from Urban Impact for her commitment to justice and community. She was also awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which recognizes individuals for accomplishments in their field and contributions to society.
“Police work is never done,” notes Best. “Officers must continuously improve public safety methods and embrace innovation. Law enforcement professionals must also have a growth mindset because new challenges are always being presented. Be as ready as you can be for whatever may be coming, and be willing to pivot.”