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SPD’s embattled/quiet/Latino Diaz out as Seattle’s police chief

Diaz at a 2011 community meeting on Capitol Hill (Image: CHS)

Diaz at a 2011 community meeting on Capitol Hill (Image: CHS)

Screen shot 2013-04-08 at 11.51.20 AMWith news coverage across the city dotted with descriptions including “embattled,” “quiet,” and “Latino,” John Diaz, Seattle’s first minority police chief, stepped down Monday ending a four-year run in a job where his leadership and style were increasingly under scrutiny and his department struggled with how best to implement Justice Department-mandated changes.

“I have a lot of thank yous but I’m going to keep this press conference short because you know how much I love doing those,” Diaz joked Monday morning.

8446031026_bf8e6f2057_b 8444009075_b65604e5a2_o 8443944007_08348c92d9_oDiaz, an East Precinct commander from 1995 to 2000, was promoted to interim chief in spring 2009 as Gil Kerlikowske left the city for Washington D.C. to become the nation’s drug czar. Mayor Mike McGinn eventually boosted Diaz and made him the full-time head of the department.

Meanwhile, an eight month DOJ investigation of Seattle policing released in winter 2011 revealed troubling findings about the department’s use of force. Last summer, Justice filed a consent decree and negotiated a plan with SPD to overhaul the department.

As the 2013 mayoral election year heated up, McGinn’s support for Diaz faced increased challenges as opponents criticized the chief for creating a “crisis in public confidence” in the city.

On Capitol Hill, Diaz’s period of leadership will likely be remembered for challenges SPD faced in dealing with the Occupy movement and anti-police protests as well as episodes of controversial use of force like the Ian Birk shooting.



When Diaz started in the role, he said his priorities in the period were improving neighborhood patrols and reducing gang violence in the city. The Mayor’s office claims crime has dropped 10% under Diaz’s watch.

Assistant Chief Jim Pugel will take over as interim chief. He served as a liaison between SPD and Justice during negotiations around the consent decree.

Screen shot 2013-04-08 at 12.14.31 PMMcGinn and Diaz deflected questions about the timing of the resignation. Diaz said he felt that he had key changes and initiatives in place and was looking forward to ending his 36-year police career. McGinn said it was Diaz’s decision alone to leave at this time.

“It’s no secret to anyone that it’s been a challenging, turbulent time for our city and the police department,” Mayor McGinn said.

UPDATE: The mayor’s office issued this statement on the changes at the top of SPD:

Chief Diaz announces his retirement, interim chief appointed


SEATTLE – Seattle Police Chief John Diaz announced his retirement today after 36 years in law enforcement, 33 of those years as a member of the Seattle Police Department.


Assistant Chief Jim Pugel of the Criminal Investigations Bureau will be the acting Interim Chief upon Chief Diaz’s departure at the end of May.


“After 36 years in policing, I look forward personally and professionally to retirement. Now is the right time. Crime in Seattle is down 11 percent compared with four years ago; the Department is in the midst of developing and implementing innovative programs that will help us face the challenges of 21st century policing; and we have built a solid foundation and are on a strong path to reform that will restore community trust and confidence in our Department. I can’t think of a better time to pass this responsibility to a new Chief, nor can I think of a more capable person to hand it to than Jim Pugel,” said John Diaz.


“John Diaz has been in charge of the department during a period of transition, and his achievements during this period have been considerable,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. “First, crime is down. Violent crime is down 2 percent and major property crime is down 12 percent since he took control of the department.  Major crime in our City is now at a 55 year low. The department has adopted new innovative practices in a way that it has never done before. And John worked hard to implement needed reforms called for in our Settlement Agreement with the Department of Justice. I thank John Diaz for his service.”


Assistant Chief Jim Pugel has spent the last several years the head of Homicide, CSI, Sexual Assault/Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, Vice/High Risk Victims, Major Crimes Task Force, Fraud/Forgery/Financial Exploitation, Auto Theft and Forensic Support Services. He has been the lead representative in the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, a partnership with the ACLU and other agencies to offer low-level drug offenders with treatment as opposed to jail. He has also developed and leads the Force Investigation Team, an effort designed to track and review police use of force to ensure that our practices are consistent with training and policy.


Jim Pugel is a native Seattleite and University of Washington graduate. He still lives in the city he serves.


“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,” said McGinn. “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.”


The Seattle Police Department has achieved much over the last four years.


  • SPD MHP – In a time when mental health treatment opportunities are eroding away, we have integrated a full time Mental Health Professional into the department to identify those in need of service, perform street assessments and rout those people to services quickly in order to increase their chances of successful treatment.
  • Crisis Intervention training – To date, 410 officers have gone though this nationally recognized training program.
  • Online Police Reports/Crime Mapping – In an effort to make crime data more accessible to the general public, police reports and 911 responses are now available online. Additionally, all 911 calls are tweeted with our Tweets by Beat program.
  • If Project – The If Project continues to bring its message of hope and redemption to communities across our state. There is no program like it in law enforcement.
  • Social Media – SPD continues to be a national leader in police communications with nearly 30,000 followers on twitter.
  • Living Room Conversations – This program brings patrol officers to your living room to answer your questions and address your concerns, offering Seattle residents a chance to connect with those that serve them. To date, 1240 people have attended 94 of these intimate neighborhood gatherings.

Crime Fighting


  • Crime is down – Total Major Crimes are down 11 percent compared to four years ago.
  • 911 response time – This metric remains on average 7 minutes for priority 0 and 1 calls. This is the goal set forth in the Neighborhood Policing Plan.
  • Proactive Time – Patrol officers have 30 percent of their shift available to spend on problem solving, also a goal set forth in the Neighborhood Policing Plan.
  • VPEP – Overtime patrols in response to a wave of gun violence in 2012 added resources to each precinct to preserve the peace and suppress illegal activities.
  • Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children – We have focused our Vice/HRV efforts to rescue children who have been coerced via violence and deception into prostitution.
  • Hiring – In addition to filling existing vacancies, we are hiring an additional 20 police officers.
  • Who Killed Me campaign – Billboards and bus ads were designed with the support of community members, Department of Justice and local media to bring attention to unsolved homicide cases.



  • 20/20: A Vision for the Future – This ambitious effort is nearly complete. The 20/20 initiatives are a solid foundation for our department as we embrace 21st Century policing.

  • Reorganization – The Department has just reorganized to streamline and support the reforms outlined in the monitoring plan.

  • Satisfaction surveys – In the latest survey conducted by the University of Washington, officers responding to calls scored 4.7 out of 5 for being professional and courteous. Overall, the Department scored 4.5 out of 5 for a satisfactory experience during any SPD contact.

  • Race and Social Justice Training – All employees will have completed Race: The Power of Illusion training by the end of the year.

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