“I knew what I was getting into” Seattle’s new top cop intends to improve morale, 911 response

VIDEO: Seattle's new acting chief takes over department

SEATTLE — No public official in Seattle is under more pressure to perform than Interim Chief Adrian Diaz. He said, “This is the most challenging time in SPD’s history.” And yet, he told KIRO-7 he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I wouldn’t change a thing about the way this worked out,” Diaz said. “I knew what I was getting into.”

Diaz, who has been with SPD for more than two decades, has always been an irrepressibly optimistic person. KIRO-7′s Gary Horcher asked him how he remains confident as he takes over a department in a storm of turmoil after Carmen Best left while the city council defunded her budget. Diaz responded that it’s all about sharing a clear picture of the public safety needs of a growing city with a shrinking department.

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Diaz says he’s already talked to council members about SPD being understaffed for years.

“Even while people were talking about defunding, we’ve already been defunded,” Diaz said. “We’ve never had the amount of officers that we need to make sure we can keep 780,000 people in this city safe.”

Horcher: “And your message to those 780,000 people, are they going to see a difference under your leadership?”

Diaz: “I already had to make a decision to put 100 officers doing other things back into patrol, because we were really challenged with the ability to answer 911 calls on a daily basis.”

Diaz reassigned detectives and supervisors to be 911 first responders, which was scheduled to take effect Sept. 16.

Without giving away his strategy shift, Diaz says SPD is also changing tactics for protesters who target officers.

“We did have people in the actual groups who were agitators, that are focused on actually hurting officers,” he said. “We made some mistakes (referring to the use of CS gas), and we’re going to learn from those mistakes. I think we’ve already adjusted some of those tactics to ensure that we’re going to end up having better way of how we respond to some of those crowd management issues.”

We asked him about the low morale his officers shared with us:

Horcher: "You also have to be a coach and a bit of a motivational speaker. What are you telling your cops on the street?

Diaz: "You know that we have a great department. We have a great city, and it needs great officers. Every department around us is looking to hire our officers because they’re highly trained.''

Diaz says the best way to motivate officers to stay is to change the way they’re perceived by the people they serve.

Diaz spent many years running youth and explorer programs connecting officers with young people to build connections and even friendships. He believes that connection is more critical now than ever before.

“How to we humanize the department?” Diaz asked. “How do we make sure that officers are connecting with community in a more deep and meaningful way.”