How White Seattle, Portland Got Black Women Chiefs

Neither city ever had hired women of color to head their police forces, but both now have them: Carmen Best in Seattle and Danielle Outlaw in Portland.

Seattle, like Portland, Or., now has a black female chief of police. Danielle Outlaw, 41, a former Oakland police commander, has been the Portland Police Bureau’s chief about 10 months, while Carmen Best, 53, a 26-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, was sworn in this week, the Los Angeles Times reports. Both appointments had an air of promise about them as two of America’s most liberal, and whitest, big cities — Seattle is 70 percent white; Portland, 76 percent — sought solutions to the racial divisions and questionable shootings that plague U.S. communities. Seattle is hoping to end six years of federally mandated oversight brought on by past civil rights violations, and Best is a semi-expert on the issue. Portland has been a revolving door for police chiefs in hot water. Outlaw replaced a chief who retired after accidentally wounding a fellow camper during a hunting and beer-drinking outing, then lied about it.

To hire the chiefs they wanted, the two cities’ new mayors used some unorthodox arm twisting to break through century-old racial and gender barriers. The Seattle department, with 1,400 sworn personnel, was founded in 1886, while the Portland Police Bureau, with roughly 1,000 officers, dates to 1870. No permanent chiefs of either city had been women of color. Portland first-term Mayor Ted Wheeler wanted to change that. He hand-picked Outlaw after warning candidates in an employment ad they would have to deal with the city’s history of racism. In Seattle, former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, who in January became the city’s first lesbian mayor, appointed Best acting chief to replace Kathleen O’Toole. Durkan made no secret about wanting Best to become permanent chief. When a trio of finalists were announced, Best didn’t make the cut. A community uproar of support for Best ensued, with critics claiming it was a secretly decided, race-based decision.