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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 13, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 11
Big changes at SPD as Chief O'Toole names new assistant chiefs
Section One
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Big changes at SPD as Chief O'Toole names new assistant chiefs

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole announced a shake-up in the agency's command staff Wednesday morning that includes the promotion of two longtime SPD officers in addition to some out of town folks.

Mayor Ed Murray and O'Toole announced the appointments of four new assistant chiefs and a civilian chief information officer who is directed to manage SPD's data and implement new technologies.

The changes will result in shuffling the three current assistant chiefs to other positions in the department.

O'Toole was appointment to Chief of Seattle Police in June 2014. Since then, SPD has changed the department's method of officer oversight, updated its uniforms and introduced a body camera pilot program, and more.

Captain Steve Wilske, Southwest Precinct commander, was promoted to assistant chief of patrol operations. Wilske fills the vacant position left by Nick Metz, who left the department to serve as chief of the Aurora, Colorado police department. Wilske has served more than 28 years with SPD in various units, including homicide, force investigation and patrol.

'Of all the leaders in the department, Steve Wilske was right at the top of the list,' O'Toole said.

Lt. Lesley Cordner, the aide to the chief, was promoted to assistant chief of compliance and professional standards, replacing Assistant Chief Tag Gleason. Cordner joined SPD in 1989.

Superintendent Robert Merner will serve as assistant chief of investigations, replacing Assistant Chief Robin Clark. Merner comes to the department via the Boston Police Department. Despite O'Toole's history as Boston police commissioner, she didn't know he applied for the job until he was considered a contending candidate, she said Wednesday. She had promoted Merner to lieutenant during her time in Boston.

O'Toole called Merner 'the hardest-working cop in the city of Boston.' In fact, Merner is a four-time Medal of Honor winner.

'If shots ring out anywhere in the city, he'll probably be first on the scene,' O'Toole said.

Merner spent 28 years at the Boston Police Department and currently oversees the investigations bureau there.

Perry Tarrant was selected to serve as assistant chief of special operations and homeland security. He spent 34 years in the Tuscon, Arizona Police Department before becoming the coordinator of the Gang Free Initiative in Yakima, Washington.

He replaces Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh.

Greg Russell was hired as the new chief information officer. He's coming from Amazon, where he served as a vice president overseeing corporate applications, enterprise data warehouse and information technology.

'Obviously he made a decision of the heart, not of the head,' O'Toole quipped of Russell's transition from the private to public sector.

He will oversee SPD's body camera pilot project and work to develop new ways to track crime using police data.

In December 2013, Seattle City Council overturned a 35-year ban on bringing outside figures into police leadership positions, Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess said, making the appointments of Russell, Tarrant and Merner possible.

Since her appointment, O'Toole has been tasked with following the federally-mandated consent decree since the U.S. Department of Justice found a 'pattern of excessive force' and deficient officer accountability in a 2011 report.

Though the Department of Justice has since praised SPD for implementing required reforms, O'Toole wants to impress a 'greater sense of urgency' in following the federal directives.

O'Toole pledged upon her appointment that she would spend her first six months assessing the department's leadership and then likely make changes based on her observations.

She says the changes announced Wednesday will infuse 'fresh thinking' into the command staff.

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