Seattle Police Chief John Diaz steps down

Updated:

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz (Associated Press/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)

SEATTLE - Seattle Police Chief John Diaz  retired Monday as his department faces a court order involving use of force by officers.

Mayor Mike McGinn said Assistant Chief Jim Pugel will be interim chief.

Diaz, a 33-year veteran of the department and the department's first minority chief, rose through the ranks from a patrol officer and was named deputy chief in 2000. He became the interim chief on May 7, 2009, after former Chief Gil Kerlikowske was named President Barack Obama's drug czar.  

Diaz was sworn in as the permanent police chief by McGinn on Aug. 16, 2010. 

“The most important thing that I bring to the table is I want to do the best for this city and the best for this Police Department," he said in 2010.

During his tenure, the chief had to deal with several incidents of alleged excessive use of force. Claims of racial bias led to a Department of Justice investigation. The investigation found that SPD “engaged in a pattern of excessive force that violated the Constitution and federal law.”

McGinn appointed a 15-member Community Police Commission to support reforms. 

Last month, a comprehensive package of reform initiatives, called SPD 20/20: A Vision for the Future, was announced by McGinn and Diaz.  The SPD 20/20 team is made up of more than 30 SPD department leaders who will oversee the implementation of 20 reform initiatives over the next 20 months.

Diaz has been criticized for his leadership style.

City Councilman Tim Burgess, who is running for mayor, said Diaz was too slow to adopt new strategies for preventing crime and to embrace the changes sought by the federal agency.

Burgess had said that if elected, he would fire Diaz.

Rick Williams, the brother of woodcarver John T. Williams, who was shot dead by a Seattle officer in 2010, said Diaz "should have resigned a long time ago."

"I hope whoever takes his position now will lead by strong example, come out here and mingle with the people," Williams said.

Seattle attorney James Egan, who has represented people alleging police misconduct, thinks Diaz was under pressure to resign. "I don't think he's a good leader," Egan said. "I think he's a bit of a wallflower."

The NAACP's James Bible said the resignation is an opportunity for a new direction for the department.

"Changing the chief is just the start," Bible said. "We need to do something about use of force, we need to do something about profiling."

Assistant Chief Jim Pugel, who was named as interim chief, has spent the last several years as 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.

Pugel is a native Seattleite and University of Washington graduate.

"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.

Merrick Bobb, the independent federal monitor appointed to oversee SPD reforms, said, "I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Chief Diaz. I will be giving Chief Pugel my support and I look forward to working with him."