Former Seattle Police Chief Takes Job As County Undersheriff

Aug 19, 2014

Sheriff John Urquhart introduces his new chief deputy, or undersheriff, Jim Pugel.
Sheriff John Urquhart introduces his new chief deputy, or undersheriff, Jim Pugel.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

King County Sheriff John Urquhart has chosen his new chief deputy: Jim Pugel, the former interim Seattle police chief.

He could benefit from Pugel's perspective. After all, it's a tough time to run a law enforcement department. From Ferguson, Missouri, to New York City, departments are being lambasted for their rough and sometimes lethal treatment of suspects.

Pugel is familiar with that kind of scrutiny. He replaced a retiring chief in 2013 and ran Seattle's police department as the U.S. Department of Justice scrutinized how the department used force against civilians.

That experience gave him a broad perspective. All police departments, Pugel says, struggle with the challenge of "gaining the trust of the people that we serve.”

Pugel was interested in the permanent job but never appeared to be seriously considered. He later retired.

After retiring, Pugel became an advocate for a progressive form of policing, where low level offenders are sent to treatment, rather than jail. Pugel also puttered around in his garden, then traveled to Guatemala and the Republic of Georgia to tell officials about how the program has worked in Seattle.

King County has a program like that, too, which Urquhart says Pugel could help.

The Sheriff has his critics, among them Charles Gaither, a police watchdog appointed by the county.

Gaither said he worries that the King County Sheriff’s Department is making mistakes similar to places where unrest has occurred. As evidence, Gaither cites Sheriff John Urquhart’s endorsement of a neck restraint technique, the same technique that recently led to the death of Eric Garner last month in New York.

At the press conference where Pugel was introduced, a reporter asked Sheriff Urquhart about this restraint technique, which she called a “choke hold.”

Urquhart bristled at the phrase.

"We don't train, we don't teach, we don't allow, we discipline against use of a choke hold,” he said. But to Gaither, that's semantics; the technique the Sheriff did approve restricts blood flow to the brain. 

“Why would you create such a policy when the risks are so high?" asks Gaither, "when it’s foreseeable that something similar could happen here?"

Pugel begins his job as chief deputy, also known as undersheriff, on Sept. 1.

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