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January 29, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Big changes at SPD as Nick Metz restored to assistant chief

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Nick Metz

In a stunning move, Nick Metz has been returned to the rank of assistant chief, Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey announced in an interview this morning.

“I thought he was the best person for the job,” said Bailey, who named Metz to head the Field Support Bureau. Bailey did not elaborate on the move, which came two months after Metz was demoted by the previous interim chief, Jim Pugel.

Bailey also announced another major change — the appointment of Capt. Chris Fowler to commander of the West Precinct, overseeing critical downtown policing. He replaces Capt. Jim Dermody, who had clashed with City Attorney Pete Holmes.

The department outlined these and other staff changes in this announcement. In addition, Bailey will discuss the changes during a news conference scheduled for 2 this afternoon.

As part of this morning’s announcement, Bailey told The Seattle Times the department’s new Compliance and Professional Standards Bureau was fully ready to begin meeting the requirements of federally mandated reforms to curtail excessive force and biased policing. Headed by new Assistant Chief Tag Gleason, the bureau will augment work already under way by the previous Professional Standards Bureau.

Gleason said the bureau will seek to work in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, who is overseeing the reforms.

The goal, he said, is to have a “continuing discussion” to achieve lasting change and not just check boxes.

“We want a culture that is committed to the changes,” Gleason said.

Officers need to know how “theoretical” policies translate into what they face in an “alley in the middle of the night,” Gleason said.

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan praised Bailey’s moves.

“We have met with Interim Chief Harry Bailey and believe he is strongly committed to constitutional and effective policing,” Durkan said in a statement. “He and the Mayor have made public safety and reform the top priorities of the Department and have set an important tone. They understand both the challenges police officers face, and that those officers must have public trust to succeed.”

Metz is returning to the command staff after being demoted by Pugel  in a move that sent shock waves through the department. Pugel had given Metz an ultimatum: Take an assignment to his civil-service rank of captain or accept a severance package, according to sources familiar with the move.

Pugel has since been returned to assistant chief and Bailey was named interim chief earlier this month by new Mayor Ed Murray. A source said Pugel may be on the way out, having been given a choice of taking a demotion to captain or retiring.

Metz, 51, who had become an assistant chief in 2001, was one of the most popular chiefs among the rank and file and was the department’s highest-ranking African-American officer. He  joined the department in 1983 and rose through the ranks.

At the time of the demotion, a source close to Pugel said Metz was viewed as an impediment to reform and that Pugel wanted to send a strong message through the ranks that change is required to comply with July 2012 settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to curb excessive force and biased policing. A Nov. 15 draft report from the federal monitor overseeing the court-ordered reforms sharply criticized the pace of change.

The move came the same week that Pugel announced the demotion of Assistant Chief Dick Reed, who asked to return to the rank of captain to run the 911 call center. Reed had overseen the department’s technology and data-collection operations, which were criticized in the draft report of Bobb, the federal monitor.

Bobb also cited resistance to the reforms among some in the top ranks — although he did not provide names — and failures in reviewing shootings by officers.

Assistant chiefs serve at the pleasure of the police chief; captains fall in the civil-service ranks.

Previously, Metz served as one of two deputy chiefs, the second-highest rank in the department, until Pugel eliminated the position after he became interim chief in April.

Metz was moved to the rank of assistant chief.

As deputy chief, Metz held a key role at a time when the department came under scrutiny from the Justice Department in 2011 after a series of high-profile violent confrontations between officers and citizens, some caught on video.

In a December 2011 report, the Justice Department said it had found a “pattern or practice” of excessive force and troubling evidence of biased policing. The city and Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement in July 2012, which required the reforms.

On Tuesday, longtime Assistant Police Chief Clark Kimerer announced his plans to retire in June, joining Assistant Chief Mike Sanford, who announced his retirement Jan. 13.

0 Comments | More in Government, The Blotter | Topics: Department of Justice, Harry Bailey, Nick Metz

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