Interim Chief Bennett says Edmonds ‘ready for reinventing policing,’ will consider becoming candidate for permanent job

Bennett served as Maple Valley’s police chief for 10 years.

Edmonds’ new interim Police Chief Michelle Bennett is excited to head the department in what she says is “a great job, with great people, in a great community.” Bennett sat down for her first one-on-one interview with My Edmonds News. The acting chief is a 30-year veteran of the King County Sheriff’s department, retiring as a major in January 2021.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter Bennett wrote March 19, the day after she started work here:

“I have heard so many amazing things about your police department and have been extremely impressed with this professional and well-run organization. I intend to provide this wonderful, diverse group of public servants with a stable platform of leadership and direction while the selection process for the permanent chief takes place. We will continue to move forward and focus on providing excellent customer service to each person that we encounter.”

Will she consider applying as a candidate for the permanent chief position? “Absolutely,” she said. “The department,” added Bennett, “is amazing; it’s a very diverse police department.” She has been meeting people in the community and thinks Edmonds would be “a great community, ready for reinventing policing.”

The City of Edmonds has hired the Washington, D.C.-based International Association of Chiefs of Police to conduct a police chief search; the department has been without a permanent leader since longtime Chief Al Compaan retired in December 2019.

In this newspaper clipping from 1989, Police Cadet Michelle Bennett is pictured with then-Edmonds police detective Al Compaan.

Bennett got her start in Edmonds as a police cadet in 1989, shortly after high school. (And, yes, that’s retired Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan in the photo at the right; he was a detective then.) She graduated from the old Shoreline High School and knew she wanted to go into law enforcement. She said she might have spent her entire career in Edmonds, but that King County held its police candidate’s exam before Edmonds.

The 52-year-old Bennett earned a bachelor’s degree in law and justice and a master’s in psychology and organizational development and behavior. She has a doctorate in education from Seattle Pacific University. She also served as police chief in Maple Valley from 2004-2014, becoming the first female officer in that city. She was the first female chief in Sammamish from 2016-2019. Those two cities contract with King County for police services.

Bennett is a graduate of  the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command and of the FBI National Academy. She has taught criminal justice classes at Shoreline Community College, Highline Community College and Central Washington University.

Her police career took her from patrol, to training officer, to serving as a school resource officer, master police officer, community sergeant, and administrative and operations Captain with King County, before her promotion to major.

Bennett co-developed the “Take a Stand Against Bullying” curriculum for high schools. Six years later, she created the Take a Stand Against Cyber-Bullying” program. In 2008, she began working with police agencies to address workplace bullying.

The acting police chief arrived in Edmonds just as the department learned that it has met the rigorous accreditation standards set by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Edmonds is one of only about 30 agencies in the state to meet those criteria. To earn that accreditation, the association says a department must prove its policies and actions “reflect the highest professional standards of policing.” That includes such areas as training, use of force, recruitment and code of conduct.

“Isn’t that awesome,” Bennett said of the news. “It’s very exciting!” She said she is particularly pleased for her officers and staff, who have been “resilient and hopeful” during this past year and half without a permanent chief. Bennett also credits former Acting Chief Jim Lawless, who recently left Edmonds for a job in Marysville, for maintaining high standards.

Prior to his departure, Lawless said in a statement that he was excited for Bennett, the department and the city, adding that she “brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. I have known Chief Bennett for years and have seen firsthand her drive and determination in serving the community and fostering strong relationships with all stakeholders, both internally and externally,” he said.

Michelle Bennett as a King County Police Captain.

Bennett said her career has taught her that transition and changes are always difficult. But, she added, “the opportunities for evolution and transparency in law enforcement are real,” and she believes that Edmonds is well positioned to plan that future.

She also talked about race, equity and social justice; all now part of the conversation in Edmonds.

Speaking about the report from the Mayor’s Task Force on Equity and Social Justice, Bennett said: “I read it; I think there is always room for improvement…we should never shy away from scrutiny.”

Bennett said the city is already making some policing changes. Among them, she cited the city’s decision announced in November 2020 to not file a criminal case for the sole offense of Driving While License Suspended in the Third Degree. Police no longer keep writing tickets for the same driver but work with them and the court to find another way to resolve the infraction. The question the city should ask, she said, is “how can we help you?” Later this month, the police will meet with Equity and Social Justice Task Force members to talk about how to make some of the other task force recommendations a reality.

As the department builds to the future, Bennett said police must continue to be deliberately inclusive, especially for communities of color that have been marginalized. She said there is money in the current budget to hire a community engagement/crime prevention specialist, and she would like to do that before her interim appointment expires.

Bennett said she believes change is about leading with equity and dignity. She is meeting residents, groups and  business people. “I want to hear people’s experiences within Edmonds,” Bennett said, “and if there is something we can do differently, we’re an open partner and it takes all of us.”

— By Bob Throndsen








  1. Dont re-invent policing. Edmonds is not big enough, competent enough, knowledgeable enough to re-invent policing. Watch and see what other cities have made great decisions, then see if that works for us. Seattle is offering us mostly examples of what not to do.

    1. Well, at the very least, this is a very well written article. A lot of good background information.

      There is really not much to be impressed with in this first interview though. “How can we help you” to not be a threat to the community by driving without a license and putting everyone at risk with dangerous driving that might kill someone? Well how about doing the basic service of policing.

      Edmonds police are already doing a tremendous job. The question should not be able how to reinvent a department that is at the top of their game, but rather how we can support them better.

      1. Evan I agree. I am proud of our new Acting Chief. Mike Nelson did a good job selecting her. That said, I bet she had to play ball on this crazy DWSL idea in order to get the job. If things get worse, it’s her fault ultimately. Mike Nelson isn’t going to back her up if anything goes sideways.

  2. “how can we help you?” Help people get the resources and information they need to get a driver’s license. Don’t nullify the law unilaterally by aiding and abetting in the crime of Driving While Suspended License. What is Edmonds’ liability if EPD pulls someone over, sees that they have a suspended license, let’s them go, then [say] that person accidentally kills someone in Shoreline [for example]? Could our town be liable for a hypothetical like this? Aren’t laws created in Congress?

    1. Matt I don’t think the police should be in the business of revenue collection. 2 things should be mandatory license and insurance. I am willing to give someone a warning for those. But not to allow repeated offenses. We should be able to keep a record of all interactions with the police. If you are a regular problem over a period of time then we should take your rights to drive away if that involves arrest impounding of the car so be it. I would prefer the police to be as informational as much as possible. Make no mistake bad guys need to go to jail theft, assault, etc.. but a ticket for driving 10 over when the police have had no previous interaction with you is just is just wrong.

      1. Matt and Jim,
        Almost 20 years ago, I had a bad accident when a scaffold collapsed under me. I was hurt seriously, shattered hip, knee, shoulder, and eardrum.
        Out of work, and with a company that fought giving me benefits for my injury/ recovery, I struggled with finances…and got behind on my insurance. Then I got pulled over for an expired tag. No insurance ticket ensued….and then a suspended license soon followed.
        This was the beginning of FIFTEEN Years of a snowballing ticket count. With no way of fixing it.
        The ticket collection agency in Bremerton( Alliance One) hounded me incessantly…garnishing my rent money, mismanaging my one attempt to get on a very difficult pay plan…and getting me fired from a new job because they had decided to cancel my newly reissued license. Not a good fix to helping anyone ….
        On my parade through numerous jail cells throughout the state….chain gangs, steel beds, bad food, out of work, crowded sentencing courts, the bulk of most courts were DWLS 3rd degree. There were also the 2nd degrees and 1st degrees….( much more serious).
        MANY judges that I talked with expressed frustration at not being able to actually do much to help….except to release me from jail.
        However…one judge ( with support from other judges) took the time to put me into a program that required an sr22 insurance…and I have been able to drive now legally. No tickets since
        Thank you Judge Fair from Edmonds!
        Just remember that 3rd degree DWLS …and even some 2nd degrees….deserve a break…..take it from me…

        1. My license has been suspended twice. Once I got a small speeding ticket while in high school. Maine had [or has] a law that says that if you get a ticket in the first year of having your license, it gets suspended for a year. My Drill Sargent in boot camp got a letter from the the State of Maine over a 7mph ticket and the Air Force sent my license back to the State of Maine. The second time I was arrested for having a name similar to someone on a traffic stop. My license was taken by NJ police and I had to pay someone else’s ticket and got to someone else’s court date to get my license back, and it still was never sorted out even though I proved it wasn’t me. Still, I managed to navigate a system that is unfair and corrupt in two particular instances. I got a ton of speeding tickets and paid those and they had a punitive effect. In the long view, it would be my fault if I didn’t have a license.

          In the long-view, if you can’t drive the speed limit, or drive without drinking, don’t drive. The system might need work, but the solution isn’t to NULLIFY state driver license laws. I’m in favor of resources helping people who seem to be consistently violating laws, but Edmonds can’t unilaterally overturn laws.

  3. Why are we not being told what is behind the change in this very particular law’s enforcement? Out of all of our laws, this one needed special attention? Do I get to know the reasoning? Are licenses being suspended for illegitimate reasons? Why haven’t I seen answers to Matt’s legitimate questions?

  4. Most of the time the suspension results out of the failure to pay for prior tickets. So, it is for repeat offenders. For some reason there are folks who listen to the whiners that whine they can’t get their license back because they get this kind of charge. Well, if they hadn’t gotten the prior tickets and actually paid or showed up for their court hearings, they wouldn’t be getting their licenses suspended. But now they are getting a free pass, more or less, and these folks will just go on driving without a valid driver’s license and with multiple unpaid fines.

    1. The term “reinventing policing” is frightening. I realize it’s all the craze in this politically correct environment, however, it implies that our Edmonds police are somehow inadequate and I don’t believe the majority of the citizens agree with that assumption. We have a diverse police force that is doing a great job.
      Do we want to start ignoring laws for some citizens and why? Selective enforcement of laws would put others at risk?
      Instead of asking someone who breaks the law “how can we help you?” How about we enforce the law and ask that they don’t break the law.
      What exactly do we want changed? What is broken?
      Exactly what training will benefit the department? “Critical race theory” training is divisive and in itself racist.
      This article could have been written by a social activist or social justice warrior…not a Police Chief.
      I don’t want public safety threatened by conducting a social experiment in our town.

  5. In December of 2020 I was driving East on Puget Drive when a driver failed to stop at a stop sign and I struck the car broadside. There were several witnesses, one who graciously took photos. I called in the non emergency collision and 2 EPD officers responded, a trainee and a FTO. They did a great job of sorting things out and filing a report. Well done EPD. The other driver was cited. The other driver was also uninsured. The case is now in subbrogation, but I have no confidence that my insurance company will recover the $4800 in cost to repair my vehicle or my personal deductable. I also wonder if the other driver paid the fine for the ticket.

  6. Policing dos not need to be reinvented. The real problem is that way too often, the wrong people are hired to be police officers. The wrong people being police officers often results in people being killed in the name of the law and for the basic crime of resisting arrest (real or contrived to justify a police killing).

    Compounding the problem is the police unions protecting the bad apples when it would be to their actual benefit to get rid of them too. We spend literally millions of dollars nationally defending and protecting badge and gun happy police officers. The good police men and women are worth twice what we pay them and the bad ones need to be weeded out before they cost lives that needn’t be taken and squander the public safety resources. One incident of proven unreasonable use of force should result in the firing and blacklisting of an officer for good. Instead sympathetic managers and juries let them off to offend again and often more abusively.

    Edmonds police and policing has been very good over the years and probably shouldn’t be messed with much by any new COP. But, Edmonds does not have many of the extreme social conditions and pockets of total poverty that many larger municipalities have. We’ve never been a major center of violent crime which is another reason so many folks want to live here.

    1. We should be concerned and questioning when we hear the liberal soft talk about future policing in Edmonds (not N.Y., Chicago, or Seattle). Edmonds PD has just been recertified by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Credit former Chief Compaan and acting Chief Lawless and their team of leaders. What policing in Edmonds needs “reinventing”? What does that mean in real world terms? What does “social justice” and “restorative justice” mean in terms of concrete future action or plans for EPD? Are we going to have different rules for different classes or races of people? Is that “equal justice under the law”?
      I wish acting Chief Bennett well but, she needs to publicly flesh out what plans for change she would implement at EPD before she should be considered for the full time position. Same for any other potential candidates.

  7. Are we reading the same article? She’s not saying she wants to reinvent the police department, she’s talking about reinventing/overhauling archaic and needlessly punitive policies.

    There’s much more nuance to what she’s doing. She’s asking if there are better ways to drive change for the greater good.

    She has some mighty experiential chops. I’m looking forward to seeing what she brings to our little community table.

    1. When you use the term “the greater good”, what does that mean to you? I believe it is double-speak for anything that meets your progressive, equity, social justice values. All laws should serve ALL people equally, not based on my brown skin.

      1. James
        You are right on the money. “Greater good” is right up there with social justice and fair share. All subjective . Like art, it means whatever you want it to mean. Always ask for the specifics.

  8. Yes indeed. My “fair share” should be a lot less than your “fair share” because I’m rich and I create jobs and wealth for everyone. I’m a good tax paying citizen of European decent and, because people like me were here first, this is really my country, not yours. We are a Christian nation and “you” don’t belong here.

    There is noting “subjective” about the concepts of “fair share” or “social justice.” We either have these things in our society as a whole, or we don’t. I’m just as tired of extreme right wing rhetoric and B.S as you are of extreme left wing rhetoric and B.S. It’s all just that – B.S. If we don’t all figure out a way to actually come together with ideas and try to solve our very real problems, the American dream and experiment of “freedom and justice for all” will, sooner than later, die a natural death.

    1. I don’t even think we’re talking about this. What city has done policing right according to Clinton?

  9. I am looking forward to the follow-up question: Why, after just having been recognized as one of only about 30 jurisdictions in the entire state to satisfy “rigorous accreditation standards set by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs,” would it be time to “reinvent policing” in Edmonds?

    Doesn’t that indicate Edmonds has already been doing policing well? Perhaps now that we’re on the map the goal is to set a new standard. If not the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’, then whose standard?

  10. Our policing is just fine here. Past chiefs here have hired well and with diversity and gotten rid of those in the ranks that needed getting rid of. Stop messing with reasonable success, spare us the search expense, and hire this very qualified lady. The Mayor and Council here always find a way to get around legislation they don’t want to comply with, so figure out a way to do this. We’d all be better off. Just “Get ‘er done.” (Apologies to Larry the cable guy for stealing his line).

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