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Seattle’s new top cop: One-on-one with Jim Pugel

SEATTLE –Jim Pugel was named interim chief to replace the retiring John Diaz on Monday.

Pugel is a 30-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department who most recently was head of the criminal investigations unit.

Pugel’s position on the command staff makes him an expert on the department, but also means that he comes with the baggage of having been a leader during an especially difficult time for the SPD, including the investigation by the Department of Justice and a blistering report about the department’s handling of last year’s May Day protests.

When asked if he was “a reformer,” Pugel neither embraced or rejected the label.

“I may have some reform initiatives,” he said.  “Everyone evolves in their jobs, picks up the good things to do, discards the wrong things to do, and always is listening to the community.”

Pugel steps into the position just a few weeks after the city and the DOJ agreed on monitoring plan as a blueprint for beginning the process of change at the SPD. Does he believe there is a culture problem in the police department?

“I don’t believe there is,” Pugel said.

Pugel said the lesson from the DOJ investigation is that systems weren’t in place to properly report use of force or to oversee patrol officers.

“That’s where we fell down,” he said. “We had very disparate ways on how we investigated use of force based on who the sergeant was, what precinct it was, and certainly sometimes the time or day or night.”

Though he won’t be taking official control for over a month, Pugel will help oversee this year’s May Day rally. A recent report slammed the department for its handling of last year’s event.  Pugel admitted that there were conflicting messages given to officers about how to deal with the violent rioters. He also attributed the problem to being “under the eye” of the Justice Department, which a year ago was pushing the city to sign a settlement agreement.

“There was some reticence to go into the crowd and get the few ringleaders, the few violent people who were just making the rest of the peaceful people look terrible,” Pugel said.

Pugel doesn’t yet know if he will apply for the position of permanent chief, something he did four years ago when John Diaz was chosen.

“The mayor has made very clear, while I am here he does not want a placeholder,” he said.

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