Carmen Best, a veteran police officer, became the first African American woman police chief of the Seattle Police Department. Born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, Best graduated from Lincoln High School in 1983. After high school, she attended Eastern Washington University where she ran track. While there, she joined the United States Army and served three years in South Korea. After which, she returned to Fort Lewis where she held an administrative position for the 9th infantry division. In 1989, Best left the Army to work as an account processor at Aetna Insurance, and it was during this time that she met her husband, Larry Best.
While at Aetna, she enrolled in the police academy. In 1992, she was hired by the Seattle Police Department. For 26 years with the department, she served in various capacities such as patrol, school safety and media relations, patrol supervisor, watch commander, and operations lieutenant. She also held command positions in community outreach, the narcotics unit as well as the robbery, gangs, and fugitive units.
In 2014, Best completed her undergraduate degree from Western Illinois University. She then received a certificate in police management from the University of Washington and completed her Master’s in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University in 2018. Best also finished the FBI National Academy, Criminal Justice Executive Leadership Academy, and the Senior Management Institute for Police.
In January of 2018, Best was appointed as interim Police Chief following the resignation of Kathleen O’Toole. Later that year, controversy ensued when she was not considered as a finalist for police chief, despite serving in the interim position. Her exclusion as a candidate not only drew criticisms from the police union of Seattle but supporters in the community as well. An advisory group to the mayor believed that Best’s long history with the Police Department would prevent her from carrying out court ordered reform. After Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office released the final candidates, a group of black community organizers led by Harriet Walden and Eddie Rye, Jr. demanded Durkan repeal the decision and placed Best among the finalists.
After mounting pressure from community leaders, Durkan spoke with top finalist Cameron McLay, former Pittsburgh Police Chief, who decided to drop out of the race due to personal reasons. She then placed Best among the finalists to which the Seattle City Council unanimously voted her as the next Police Chief. Best was officially sworn in on August 13, 2018.
As Police Chief, Best manages 1,400 police officers and is in charge of maintaining court ordered reform to limit excessive police force and improve relationships with the local community. In 2019, she received the Vision from the Mountaintop Award from Urban Impact for her dedication to justice and community as well as being awarded the “Newsmaker of the Year” by the Seattle Black Press. She is also a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and the National Latino Police Officers Organization (NLPOA).
Carmen and Larry Best live in Seattle and have two adult daughters.