Assistant Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel has decided to retire, effective Monday, ending a 31-year career in which he served a stint as interim police chief during one of the most tumultuous times in the department’s history.
Pugel’s departure comes only months after he sought to position himself for the job of permanent chief.
But his chances appeared to dwindle after new Mayor Ed Murray took office in January, defeating Mike McGinn, who had appointed Pugel as interim chief last April. As Murray launched a search for a new chief, he replaced Pugel in January with a new interim chief, Harry Bailey.
Pugel, 54, became the third assistant chief to choose to retire since Murray became mayor. Murray vowed to make federally mandated police reforms a top priority, giving Bailey, a former Seattle assistant police chief who came out of retirement, a free hand to shake up the top ranks of the department.
Pugel and the two other assistant chiefs — Clark Kimerer and Mike Sanford — held key command-staff roles as the department came under scrutiny in recent years over excessive use of force and biased policing. In 2012, the city entered into a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to adopt reforms.
Pugel had signaled he planned to pursue the permanent position, which put him in conflict with Murray’s condition that an interim chief not seek the permanent job in order to avoid questions about the motivations behind decisions. Bailey said he would not apply.
Pugel returned to the assistant chief rank, with a special assignment to work on the department’s ongoing effort to reduce harm in drug policing and other enforcement.
But notably, Pugel was not listed on Bailey’s newly formed command staff. Then, according to a source familiar with the matter, he was given the choice of retiring or taking a demotion to his civil-service rank of captain.
At some point, he took a leave while negotiating the terms of his departure.
It is unclear whether Pugel still plans to pursue the permanent job, which is widely expected to go to someone outside the department.
Pugel’s retirement announcement caps a remarkable career marked by multiple assignments in the department.
The Seattle native and University of Washington graduate started as a volunteer reserve police officer in 1981. He was hired as a full-time officer in January 1983 and promoted to sergeant seven years later.
He supervised the East Precinct and Basic Training Academy before being promoted to lieutenant in January 1994. He was a watch commander and an operations lieutenant in the East Precinct before taking command of the sexual-assault unit.
In 1999, Pugel was promoted to captain of the West Precinct and in 2000 he became an assistant chief.
At the time he was elevated to interim chief last April, Pugel was commander of the department’s investigation division. Under his leadership, the department earned wide praise for its work on high-profile investigations.
Early in his tenure as chief, Pugel struck a cooperative stance on police reforms. He said he anticipated having a good working relationship with the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, who is overseeing the settlement agreement between the city and Justice Department. The agreement, which calls for the city to address unnecessary force and discriminatory policing, already had led to sweeping new policies and training.
Bobb praised Pugel for pushing the reforms, although in a stinging progress report late last year Bobb sharply criticized the pace of change, highlighting resistance by some in the top ranks.
In response, Pugel demoted two assistant chiefs, Nick Metz and Dick Reed, to their civil-service ranks of captain. But Pugel kept Kimerer and Sanford on his command staff, a decision that some observers saw as stemming from old loyalties.
Bailey restored Metz to the rank of assistant chief and ushered out Kimerer and Sanford, a clear sign Pugel’s star had faded.
As recently as 2010, Pugel was one of 11 semifinalists for the job of police chief after Gil Kerlikowske stepped down in 2009 to become the nation’s drug czar. Deputy Chief John Diaz was ultimately chosen for the post.
When then-Mayor Mike McGinn’s decided to appoint Pugel as interim chief, Diaz pointed to Pugel’s work ethic, lengthy career with the department and implementation of an investigative team to examine officers’ use of force and a force-review board.
Diaz also cited Pugel’s work on the innovative Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, in which officers can divert low-level drug dealers and addicts into treatment instead of taking them to jail.