Mixed Reactions: SPD Controversy Thickens As Seattle Police Chief Steps Down

On Monday, Washington State Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray, who is running for Seattle mayor, released the following statement in response to the announcement that Seattle Police Chief Diaz is stepping down:

Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times

“With respect to today’s announcement that Seattle Police Chief John Diaz is stepping down, I am concerned that this announcement not be taken as a sign that SPD’s problems are now solved. The problem with SPD is a failure of leadership, and that leadership begins with the mayor. We need a new mayor, one who is committed to positive reform and who will work to transform the culture of our police department.

“Make no mistake, we have a serious situation with SPD. It is an absolute embarrassment that a progressive city like Seattle is currently operating under a Justice Department consent decree - and that this has happened despite the fact that the vast majority of our front line officers perform a difficult and dangerous job with grace, courtesy and bravery.

“I am also very concerned about the timing of this announcement, coming as it does in the midst of a hotly contested mayor’s race. We must be very careful and deliberate in choosing the next chief. Given the challenges this department faces, we need to conduct a thorough national search to find the best possible replacement to bring about the cultural change that is needed. But I worry that the political uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the mayor’s race will lead many top tier candidates to not apply. And if we do have a new mayor in November, that leader has to be comfortable with the next chief, or the disruption in the department will be even worse.

“In light of those facts, I believe that rather than launching a hurried search now, the better response would be to appoint a strong interim chief to act as a caretaker. That interim chief must have the confidence of line officers and make a clear commitment to continuing to implement the consent decree reforms. That interim would then manage the department until after the November elections, when a search would be launched. I know waiting that long is not ideal, but we need to get this right, and conducting a thorough search free from political uncertainties is critical to ensuring the process is a success. The prudent move would be to get past the current turbulent political landscape rather than rushing to select a new chief.”

The following reactions are courtesy of Seattle news channel King 5:

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan:

I have worked closely with Chief John Diaz for many years.  He has been a key partner in addressing gun violence, dismantling criminal organizations, and combatting terrorist threats.  He oversaw the first steps of the implementation of reforms within the Seattle Police Department.  I am grateful for his partnership and service, and wish him well.
This is a critical time for SPD and our community.  Jim Pugel has shown before that he can step up and lead.  To move us forward, he will need to help guide and implement the full range of reforms and set clear expectations and direction for every officer.  The next several months are very important for reform and public accountability.  SPD will be drafting and adopting new policies and developing new training around use of force, bias-free policing, and stops.  Getting reform right requires everyone moving in the same direction.  Chief Pugel's leadership will be essential.

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper:

Chief Diaz's heart was in the right place, and he did his best to steer the department down the right path.  But the institution itself needs a major overhaul.  I hope the chief's successor is given both the direction and the latitude necessary to make that happen.  Meanwhile, I wish John the very best in his retirement.     

Seattle Attorney Peter Holmes:

"With best wishes for a happy retirement (and some envy), I must say it has been an honor to work with Chief John Diaz during a challenging time for the Seattle Police Department and the City as a whole. He has helped prepare SPD for the reform effort now under way, and richly deserves some R&R before pursuing the next chapter in his life. I hope he will remain involved in police reform efforts throughout the country. 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."

The Contributor spoke exclusively with Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) founder Shaun Knittel about the resignation news.

“I am in agreement with Sen. Ed Murray that the vast majority of SPD's front line officers perform ‘a difficult and dangerous job with grace, courtesy and bravery.’ Social Outreach Seattle also shares his concern that by stepping down, Diaz not be looked at as having solved the problem. There should be no rush to find a replacement. This is a serious situation that must be handled with care. The next individual appointed Seattle Chief of Police must be someone who can handle the job.”

Knittel added, “A culture of change is needed and the candidate chosen for the position must do all they can to influence that change. The disruption of the department, which is already operating under a Justice Department consent decree, cannot get worse. The individual chosen must be a strong leader, well respected by the line officers, and possess a healthy knowledge and compassion for all of Seattle's inhabitants; black, white, gay, straight, immigrant, or citizen. That same leader will have to walk the fine line between policing the city streets to keep people safe from criminal activity and the use of excessive violence or racism and homo/trans-phobia. Seattle is a progressive city that is about as tolerant as they come. The next Chief of Police should be the same.”

Knittel’s brainchild, SOSea, has been working with the SPD to develop a business neighborhood watch program for Capitol Hill.  

“We are scheduled to unveil the program April 29. Throughout our interaction with the SPD, we have found the force to be very open to our ideas and the officers we've worked with -- in particular Officer Sina Ebinger, community outreach section -- have expressed their concern over the image of the department and the conduct of some of its officers. From East Precinct Commander Captain Ron Wilson to Assistant Chief Dick Reed, SOSea has only had positive conversation and exchange of ideas. So it is of great interest to us that the next Chief of Police be someone that Seattle can be proud of and an agent of change that inspires their officers, the general public, and the elected official who names them chief ... whomever that may be.”

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