Blog Post: Q and A with Chief Carmen Best (Ret.), Seattle Police Department
February 26, 2021
Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force Blog
Q and A with Chief Carmen Best (Ret.), Seattle Police Department,
LEITF Senior Advisor
How did you first come to be involved in the LEITF?
Several years ago, I was serving as Deputy Chief of the Seattle Police Department. Kathleen O’Toole, our Chief at the time, had tasked me with building and strengthening relationships between the police and the diverse communities we serve. Many of these communities, which include both established ethnic neighborhoods and newer populations of recent immigrants, were seeing upticks in violence, and we were struggling to build trust in these communities. Coincidentally, as we were reaching out to other jurisdictions, we received outreach from the LEITF, and immediately jumped at the opportunity to partner with an organization focused on promoting good policy and practice. I can say without reservation that the LEITF network has been invaluable in helping to shape our collaboration with our immigrant communities.
Why is it important for law enforcement agencies to engage with their immigrant communities?
Quite simply, because it is good for the community as a whole. The reality is that when people feel as though they are welcome and belong to a community, they are going to give back. They are going to partner in building strong, healthy, and safe communities. If we are to succeed in our primary mission of securing public safety, it is incumbent upon us as law enforcement professionals to do everything in our ability to support immigrant communities and ensure they have a pathway to success. Their successes makes our communities safer and more vibrant.
What challenges did you and SPD face while engaging with Seattle’s immigrant populations? What were your successes?
Like many big cities, Seattle is home to populations fleeing horrific circumstances in their homeland – poverty, hunger, war, gang violence. Many come to the US having experienced trauma that few among us could imagine. And while we know that immigrants are more likely to be victims of crime, we also know that they are less likely to call for police services; for many, law enforcement represents an arm of systemic oppression, at minimum to be distrusted, if not outright feared. It is critical that we are able to forge open lines of communication and cultural understanding as a foundation to building trust.
I’ll highlight two initiatives that I’m particularly proud of. One is our Immigrant Family Institute – an eight-week program that brings together police officers and immigrant youth and their families to learn from each other. We work together to provide information to these communities about their rights, what they can expect from us, the array of government services available to them, and we collaborate on community-based public safety initiatives. In turn, officers build friendships and grow their cultural competency as to the communities they serve. While this program goes back now nearly twenty years, it has grown significantly over the past several years. Similarly, our Refugee Women’s Institute, which we started in 2014, pairs female officers with about 20 refugee women to help break down barriers to inclusion and support them in becoming leaders in their communities. I think law enforcement, as a general profession, does a poor job exposing officers to the cultural diversity of our broader communities, and we need to understand how a community’s culture may play a significant role in how police are approached or received. Initiatives like these have proven invaluable in helping to bridge that divide.
What have you learned about immigration policies during your time as a police chief that you think other law enforcement leaders should know?
We need to focus on policies of inclusion. We are responsible for our communities in their entirety, and the more we communicate, the further we can forge together towards safe neighborhoods, safe schools, and thriving communities where everyone has the opportunity to contribute. Unfounded rhetoric around immigrants — which has driven so much of the narrative at the federal level over the past few years — needs to stop.
What do you hope to see happen with immigration reform in the Biden administration?
I’m so hopeful for the opportunities this administration brings. Among these is common sense immigration reform – providing pathways to citizenship, especially for the Dreamers, who don’t know any other life than what they’ve experienced here, and who in every sense of the word have proven themselves to embody the American dream. I am encouraged by President Biden’s commitment to surge humanitarian resources to the border and to foster public-private initiatives to reunite families. So much of what contributes to the marginalization of immigrants in our communities is the trauma that is rooted in both their journeys and the often-horrific conditions that drove their migration. Doing what we can to mitigate that trauma through humane treatment at our border, and in our communities, is not only the pragmatic thing to do in support of public safety, but, in my opinion, a moral imperative. Finally, I am looking forward to supporting the President’s commitment to address the root causes of migration by bolstering the economies and security of countries of origin – an approach that we know makes sense for both national security and the global economy.
What will be your role with the LEITF moving forward and what are you hoping to accomplish in your role?
I’m so excited for this opportunity. As a Senior Advisor, I’ll be highlighting the tremendous work that the LEITF is doing, encouraging more chiefs and sheriffs to become engaged, and making sure that the LEITF continues to shape immigration policy and practices. I’ll be focused on bringing experts together to sustain a productive conversation on immigration, both within the law enforcement community and with other public and private stakeholders. There is so much opportunity over the next several years to make huge strides in achieving a more cohesive and resilient society, and I’m so pleased to help in any way I can.