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The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

April 8, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz retiring

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz speaks to the media at a news conference Monday morning to announce he is stepping down from the top job in the department. (Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times)

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz speaks to the media at a news conference Monday morning to announce he is stepping down from the top job in the department. (Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times)

UPDATE AT 4:01 P.M.: In a one-on-one interview in his office at police headquarters on Monday afternoon, Seattle Police Chief John Diaz said he and Mayor Mike McGinn have been talking about his retirement for the past couple months. He said he has no immediate plans other than enjoying the summer with his family and maybe getting some fly fishing in, but acknowledged he won’t be taking up a hobby or spending his days at home.

“It’s just not me,” said Diaz, whose first priority is to create more balance in his life.

“You can’t let work overwhelm your entire life and frankly, it has,” he said.

While Diaz acknowledged criticism of his quiet leadership style, he said he was raised to listen more than talk.

“You are who you are at the end of the day. There’s no right way or wrong way to be a leader,” he said. “…I always tried to make my decisions based on what I believed was right…I will let history decide if I was right or wrong.”

ORIGINAL POST: Chief John Diaz, who oversaw the Seattle Police Department for three tumultuous years, announced today he is stepping down.

Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel will become the interim police chief in Seattle.

Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel will become the interim police chief in Seattle.

“This has been a profession that I truly believe in,” he said during a news conference. His retirement takes effect in May.

Assistant Chief Jim Pugel will be interim chief, Mayor Mike McGinn said. Pugel has been with the department since 1983.

Diaz, 55, was serving as interim chief when he was appointed chief in June 2010. He replaced Gil Kerlikowske, who left Seattle to become drug czar in the Obama administration.

Diaz has been under close scrutiny since the Department of Justice (DOJ) found in December 2011  that Seattle police officers had engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive force and displayed evidence of biased policing. The DOJ and the City of Seattle reached a settlement in July requiring the department to adopt sweeping reforms.

“We’ve gone through some challenges,” he said during the news conference.

Diaz has embraced the need for reform while resisting some elements of the changes, including the appointment of Merrick Bobb as the independent federal monitor overseeing the reforms and the scope of Bobb’s monitoring plan.

Diaz, who has been with the Seattle Police Department for more than 30 years, cited the DOJ settlement agreement and monitoring plan, a drop in the city’s crime rate and the “innovative” measures the department has undertaken to combat crime in deciding to retire now.

“This is the time to go,” he said.

The Police Department also came under sharp criticism last week, when an outside review found the department had inadequately prepared for last year’s May Day protests that led to widespread vandalism and violence.

Also, last week, another outside report sharply criticized the Police Department over its handling of a high-profile physical confrontation between a veteran officer and a man last summer. The report, commissioned by the City Attorney’s Office, said that the ability to charge the officer with assault had been hampered because the department botched the investigation into the incident.

“He had a quiet leadership style that can be both very effective and ineffective,” Councilmember Bruce Harrell said this morning.

Diaz, who is Latino, was Seattle’s first minority chief.

He was appointed chief at a time when the department was under fire for several high-profile incidents involving officers and minority citizens. Many of the incidents were caught on video: one showing two Seattle officers stomping a prone Latino man; another involving a white cop slugging a 17-year-old black girl over a jaywalking incident. Both went viral, making national news.

Before he was named chief, Diaz was deputy chief, and assistant chief commanding the Special Operations Bureau. He also worked in the East Precinct as a sergeant, lieutenant and captain, and from 1995 to 2000 Diaz served as the precinct captain, according to the department’s website.

Other command assignments have included the internal-investigation, gang and violent-crimes sections. Diaz also spent five years working as patrol officer in the South Precinct before being promoted to sergeant. He served the Army from 1977 to 1980 as a criminal investigator.

He is a San Francisco native. His wife, Linda Diaz, is a Seattle police detective. They have three children.

During the news conference, Diaz credited McGinn for giving him the opportunity to serve as chief.

“To the men and women of the Seattle Police Department, you have shown me that you’re going to get through it and do it well,” he said. “I leave here pretty proud of my career here.”

Chris Stearns, chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, released the following statement on Diaz’s retirement:

“The Seattle Human Rights Commission has worked with Chief John Diaz for a number of years, starting with the Angel Rosenthal punching, the Shandy Cobane beating, and the John T. Williams shooting.  While we have not always been in agreement with SPD, we have been grateful for the manner in which Chief Diaz led through his humility and for his willingness to reach out to the many communities affected by SPD actions during his tenure.”

City Attorney Pete Holmes issued a statement which read, in part: “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.”

Pugel began his career with the Seattle Police Department as a volunteer reserve officer in 1981, according to the department’s website. He was hired as a police officer in January 1983 and was promoted to sergeant in January 1990.

Pugel was promoted to lieutenant in January 1994 and served as both a watch commander and an operations lieutenant in the East Precinct before commanding the department’s Sexual Assault Unit. He was promoted to assistant chief in July 2000.

Pugel graduated from the University of Washington.


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