Chief O’Toole Hires Two Outsiders While Rumors Swirl Over Future Changes

One of the big questions that greeted the arrival of Kathleen O’Toole as police chief last month was what she would do about the command staff, which had in preceding months been through a dizzying array of changes. By order of Mayor Ed Murray or the interim chief he installed, Harry Bailey, the department ousted or sidelined veterans and in their place named a slew of new assistant chiefs. The changes sat uneasily with some, who saw in the shakeup the influence of SPD’s two unions, both of whom supported Murray in his campaign.

O’Toole’s first foray into staffing changes came yesterday, when she announced the hiring of two civilians. Most notably, the new chief has created a new role—chief operating officer—that will be filled by Mike Wagers, who last worked at the International Association of Chiefs of Police as the director of law enforcement operations and support. O’Toole also tapped Mike Fields, the city’s labor negotiator, to serve as interim human resources director. Fields is replacing Capt. Mike Nolan in that role.

Hiring outsiders to the department may help O’Toole steer clear of some of the fierce politicking that has been at play over the last six months. And it’s also something she was obliged to do, the chief relates, speaking today with SW by phone from Boston, where she is finally packing up her things. (“I came here with one suitcase and three business suits,” she quips.)

“I was given my marching orders by both the mayor and city council to consider outside candidates,” O’Toole elaborates. She says she’s on board with that, certainly for these positions. “Police officers should do policing. And we should bring in people with appropriate management experience to do things like finance, IT and human relations.”

Fields, she adds, might work outside SPD but has been very much involved with the department. As the city’s labor negotiator, he has worked on SPD’s collective bargaining agreements. “He knows the organization. He knows the players,” O’Toole says.

In any case, more outsiders are likely on the way. O’Toole says that she’s open to reaching beyond the department for “sworn positions as well.” By that, she means assistant chief positions. It’s these she says she was alluding to when she wrote, in a message posted on SPD’s website yesterday, about “rumors” that have been circulating.

“There have been rumors and rumors about rumors,” says Seattle Police Officers’ Guild president Ron Smith. “Everybody’s waiting to see what she’s going to do.”

Indeed, this is where things will really get interesting, and we’ll see what previous changes will stick. The Seattle Police Management Association is pursuing an unfair labor practice complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Commission over legislation passed by city council that allows the chief to hire assistants from the outside. SPMA president Eric Sano says his union isn’t against all outside hires, but believes the number needs to be negotiated so that outsiders aren’t suddenly running the entire department.

“I’ve sat down with the chief and I’ve found her to be reasonable,” Sano says, although he won’t divulge any specifics of their conversation. “She is a person who wants to avoid ULPs (unfair labor practices) and grievances.”

O’Toole isn’t yet saying how many more outsiders she might bring in. She says she thinks it’s important to give those now in command positions “an opportunity to prove themselves.” But they don’t have long to do so. She says more announcements will likely be made in the next few weeks.

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