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Diaz steps down; search for a replacement begins

Former Seattle Police Chief John Diaz announced on April 8 that he would retire from his post.  Assistant Chief Jim Pugel took over as interim chief until the mayor appoints a new leader of the police force and the city approves his appointment.

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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.


After Diaz, what’s next for SPD?

SEATTLE — A couple of big questions loom after the resignation of Seattle Police Chief John Diaz.

First, comes the search for a permanent successor in a critical time for the SPD because of major reforms that are just getting underway. And should the search for a permanent successor, which is chosen by the Mayor, happen this year, in the midst of a mayoral campaign, or wait until after the election when we’ll know if Mike McGinn will still be in office?

Second, will reform and the effort to root out excessive force get stalled or delayed because of the change at the top?

“The Consent Decree is a roadmap, regardless of who sits in the chief’s chair,” said the ACLU’s Jennifer Shaw, who was a key player in pushing the Department of Justice to step in and mandate reform at the SPD. 

Shaw isn’t troubled by the change in leadership, now that there is a federal agreement in place.

“We can’t expect everyone to stay around the entire time,” she said. “It’s more important that we all, and that the city leadership, continue to keep an eye on meeting all of the deadlines.”

Shaw notes that in Los Angeles, a new chief was named two years into that city’s federal consent decree, and it actually helped the process.

“The difference there, I think, was pretty marked,” Shaw said. “There was a lot of resistance to implementing and then they brought in Chief Bratton.”

She said Bratton “understood the importance of working with the monitor.”

Shaw doesn’t worry about an existing consent decree scaring off future candidates for the permanent chief position. However, she is concerned about conducting the search in the middle of a heated mayoral election, something that happened four years ago. McGinn said Monday a likely successor won’t be named until after the election. But Shaw said a search could throw a wrench into reforms.

“It seemed very disruptive to have a search committee start work, and then stop because of the elections and then start up again,” Shaw said.

City councilmember Tim Burgess, who is challenging Mike McGinn in this year’s election, believes the search should wait until after November.  “We’re not going to get the best candidates nationally if we do this in the midst of a mayoral election,” Burgess said.

But none of this year’s candidates to replace McGinn see it the same as Burgess.

“Having an interim chief always gives you that sort of cloud of a temporary feel,” said City Councilmember Bruce Harrell.  He urges “a sense of urgency and clarity as move forward to pick a new police chief.”


SEATTLE — There are some big changes coming to the Seattle Police Department.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to be part of this organization for 33 years,” Police Chief John Diaz said Monday as he announced he will retire sometime in April.

“I wasn’t going to leave until we had that reform issue up and running and in place that monitoring plan is in place; we’ve restructured the department so we can get that running as smoothly and quickly as possible,” Diaz said.


From left, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, Police Chief John Diaz and Assistant Chief Jim Pugel attending Monday’s news conference.

Diaz’s time as chief has been difficult from the beginning. There were several high-profile allegations of excessive use of force, many of which were caught on tape. They split the community, and caused a lot of citizens to lose faith in the department.

They also led to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and calls for reforms to combat excessive force.

Then, last week the results of an independent investigation into last year’s May Day riots found the department was ill-prepared for the violence and lacked good command and communication with its officers on the street. Diaz admitted the fault was with the command.

“I won’t say every decision I’ve made was right. What I will say is that I tried to make every decision based on what I believed was right, and I leave pretty proud of my career here,” Diaz said.

And there were some bright spots and successes during his tenure, including better response times, crisis-intervention training, and implementation of the neighborhood policing plan.

“Major crime is down 10% since he took control of the department and it is now at a 55-year low,” Mayor Mike McGinn said.

Assistant Chief Jim Pugel will take the helm as interim chief while a search is launched for a new police chief.

“He came up through the ranks,” Seattle Police Officers’ Guild President Rich O’Neill said of Pugel. “He has walked the beats, he has a very diverse career and he has distinguished himself as a member of the department; he is more than capable of handling the job” of police chief.

O’Neill said Pugel is the kind of leader rank-and-file officers want and need.

“They’re looking for stability, to have someone who leads the department in a way to get these reforms done as quickly as possible, so the department can move forward and out of this period of time where it seems like bad news after bad news,” O’Neill said.

“I promise to continue to work with all the groups, with the media, with everyone who has an interest in seeing Seattle an even better, an even safer city,” Pugel said.

Pugel is a University of Washington graduate. He began his career at SPD as a volunteer reserve officer in 1981. He was hired as a full-time officer in 1983 and was assigned to the SWAT team in 1986. He was promoted to sergeant in 1990, to lieutenant in 1994, captain in 1999 and then became assistant chief in 2000.

SEATTLE — Seattle Police Chief John Diaz is stepping down from his post.

Diaz and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn officially announced the chief’s resignation during a press conference at 11:30 a.m. Monday at City Hall.

Diaz released a letter to the public shortly before the meeting. In it, he announced his retirement and thanked the “men and women of SPD.” He said a 45-day transition period would occur before his retirement. Assistant Chief Jim Pugel would serve as acting chief of police until a new chief was appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Seattle City Council.

Diaz, 55, has been in office since June 2010 and has been with the department for 36 years.His tenure was marked with interactions with the Department of Justice, which in December 2011 found that Seattle police officers engaged in biased policing and excessive use of force. The department also came under criticism again last week, when an independent review found the department had inappropriately handled last year’s May Day protests.

The former chief spoke about “significant progress” the SPD has made on a path to reform.

“We have re-aligned the Department to achieve the reform objectives set before us and throughout the organization employees are working tirelessly to accomplish these objectives,” Diza said.

Diaz said he recognized his department’s troubles, saying “it’s been tough from the beginning.” Diaz’s decision to retire was spurred by what he considered the start of a successful path for reform, he said.

“I wanted to make sure that our work, some of the interventions that we were working for were up and running,” Diaz said. “Is there ever a perfect time? No. But it’s the right time for me.”

CHIEF DIAZDuring the press conference, Mayor McGinn called Seattle a better, safer place under Diaz’s service.

“Major crime is down 10 percent since he took control,” McGinn said.

Interim chief Jim Pugel said he will continue to work on a path to reform that Diaz started, he said. Pugel has spent the last several years as the head of Homicide, CSI, Sexual Assault/Child Abuse and other services. He is a native Seattleite and lives in Seattle.

“I am pleased that Jim Pugel will serve as interim chief while we begin the process called for in the city charter for selecting and appointing a new permanent chief,” McGinn said. “I meet several times a month with the command staff. i have had the opportunity to spend time with Jim, and I have come to appreciate his directness, honesty, integrity and progressive thinking. I am confident that Jim will uphold public safety in Seattle during the police chief search process and that he will keep our reform work on track.”

City Attorney Peter Holmes said he looks forward to working with the interim police chief.

“I look forward to working with Interim chief Jim Pugel to continue to advance these critical reforms and to ensure that public safety remains our first priority for Seattle.”

City Councilman Tim Burgess, who is challenging McGinn in the mayoral race, took a less than rosy outlook on Diaz’s tenure.

“There was a lack of  decisive leadership and clear direction,” Burgess said. “The May day report last week was scathing in its assessment of the police department’s planning, management  supervision. It mirrored what the department of justice said to us in December of 2011. So, we have a lot of work to do.”

photoHere is the full text of Diaz’s letter:

This is to let you know that later this morning I am announcing my retirement, effective the end of May 2013.

After thirty-six years in law enforcement, I can truly say that I am proud to have been engaged in the noble profession of policing, and prouder still to have been a member of this organization, the Seattle Police Department, for the last thirty-three years.

You, the men and women of SPD, are among the finest law enforcement professionals in the world. Your skills and ingenuity are matched only by your caring and dedication. It has been an honor to work with and around you for over thirty years, and in particular, to have served as your Chief for the last four years.

As I have contemplated retirement, I have done so with equal measures of profound admiration for, and supreme confidence in, you and the work you do. This is especially true with regard to achieving our primary mission as a police organization – fighting crime.

In the last twenty years, major crime in Seattle is down over 65%, with the reduction at 11% in just the last four years. But even when faced with crime challenges, you have consistently risen to the occasion, whether connecting the dots in events such as Café Racer or setting the stage for longer term investigations such as Oliver’s Twist; whether trolling the internet to identify and rescue victims of child pornography and the sex trade or patrolling neighborhoods plagued with gunfire; whether balancing the safety and rights of those engaged in protests with those of the larger community or monitoring the behaviors and well-being of those whose homes are the streets; whether taking part in intricate tactical operations or extending small acts of kindness to residents and visitors to our city.

Every day each of you plays a part in making Seattle one the safest large cities in the country, and in doing so, you help this city and this region to thrive. You provide the safe and secure environment that allows Seattle to be one of the most productive economic engines in the nation. And you do this with an uncommon professionalism and level of service.

In our most recent survey of 9-1-1 callers who had an officer dispatched, for example, those surveyed ranked their level of satisfaction in dealing with SPD at 4.5 on a five-point scale where 5.0 is highly satisfied, and they rated the courtesy and professionalism of the responding officers at 4.7 on a five-point scale where 5.0 is high. Any organization would be envious of these ratings, but for a police department that is generally responding to conflict, injury or harm to receive them, is truly amazing.

photoMy confidence and admiration are also fueled by the remarkable creativity and ingenuity you have brought to the job. This is seen in the many innovations for which SPD has been responsible: from the development of new approaches to address chronic problems such as the LEAD program for drug offenders, to bringing hope and redemption to sentenced offenders as exemplified in the IF Project, from the cutting-edge use of social media to inform and engage the public through “tweets by beat” and the SPD Blog, to the low-tech-bring-an-officer-into-your-home Living Room Conversations, from the exotic computer analytics that support our hotspot and violence-intervention strategies, to the painstaking, frame-by-frame review of camera footage that leads to identification and arrest of criminal suspects. Time and again you have shown the capacity to use the tools at your disposal and to work in partnership with others to make this city a safe place to live, work and visit. Seattle is indeed lucky to have in its police department employees with your level of dedication and involvement.

Finally, I am pleased and confident about where we are as an organization on the path to reform. We have in place a settlement agreement with the DOJ, a monitoring plan with the federal monitor and a newly formed Community Police Commission. We have made significant progress in achieving the many self-imposed initiatives embedded in the 20/20 Plan. We have re-aligned the Department to achieve the reform objectives set before us and throughout the organization employees are working tirelessly to accomplish these objectives. We are poised to make a number of new hires this year and these new officers will enter an organization fully engaged in the latest innovations in training, in use of force review, in crisis intervention and in the pursuit of procedural and social justice for all.

Through it all, I have seen you devote the same level of dedication, professionalism, courage and imagination to the matter of reform as you have to fighting crime and keeping this community safe. This is why I can depart this career and this organization with the level of confidence, admiration and pride I have today.

So, what happens next? First, there will be an approximate 45-day transition period. Then, upon my departure, Assistant Chief Jim Pugel will serve as Acting Chief of Police until such time as a new Chief is appointed and confirmed. As many of you know, Jim is a native of Seattle and a University of Washington graduate. With 30 years in the Department, he has wide experience and has worked in many parts of the organization. Jim still lives in the City he serves and is an excellent choice for Interim Chief.

Once again, I want to thank each and every one of you for the work you do, and for the skill, ingenuity and dedication you bring to your jobs. I am grateful to have been a part of a profession so integral to a democratic society and proud to have served with you in the Seattle Police Department, one of the finest, most effective, most innovative and most successful police organizations in the nation.

Thank you and God bless,

John Diaz
Chief of Police