Advice For Police Chiefs
9:18 am
Wed April 2, 2014

Jim Pugel Reflects On 31 Years With The Seattle Police, From WTO To Drug Policy Reform

Assistant Chief Jim Pugel speaking at a press conference on gun safety, April 18, 2012.
Credit SPD Photo

After 31 years with the Seattle Police Department, Jim Pugel is leaving. But he has no plans to retire.

As assistant chief, Pugel oversaw SPD’s investigations. He was appointed interim chief under former mayor Mike McGinn. Pugel stepped down from that job in January when Mayor Ed Murray replaced him with Harry Bailey during the search for a permanent chief.

Pugel told KUOW he plans to continue his work on drug policy reform. He wants to replicate the project he started in Seattle, which steers addicts and low-level offenders towards services rather than arresting them.

Jim Pugel: It’s the police officer that’s out there on the street every day, all day long, all night long. They know who the criminals are and who the addicts are. And we as leaders have to do a better job delineating between the two and treating addiction as a public health issue.

Certainly it’s against the law to possess certain drugs at certain levels or deal them. While respecting those, until those laws are changed, we have to – as police leaders, community leaders, informed community members – we have to take a more pragmatic approach and delineate between addiction and crime.

It's fraught with uncertainty, it's fraught with mistakes. But it's also just a tremendous profession where you can do a lot to improve your community.

Amy Radil: Do you see yourself as ever wanting to work within a police department again?

Pugel: Certainly, it’s in my bones. It’s a very noble profession. It’s fraught with uncertainty, it’s fraught with mistakes. But it’s also just a tremendous profession where you can do a lot to improve your community, and it sounds like a platitude, but really serve others.

Radil: Would you think of applying for the new permanent chief position at SPD?

Pugel: I don’t think this time around, I don’t think it would be a practical thing to do. Thirty-one years in one place is a long time. I think, though, that search will attract some very high-quality people.

Regardless of what we feel or know based on what we hear in media about SPD, it’s viewed nationwide, and to a degree worldwide, as a very progressive, very innovative and very good police department. That’s not saying we don’t have to work on issues addressed by the Department of Justice, and we certainly are, but it is a very good police department.

Radil: You mentioned WTO in your farewell letter, what are episodes that you’ve been part of as a police officer that will stay in your memory?

Pugel: I think the WTO was fascinating. I was just promoted to captain three months before, four months before. And because it was supposed to happen downtown and the then-leaders were convinced that it was a small, quaint international trade fair that was just going to be in the convention center, they put me in charge of all the officers on the street.

As we got closer we started realizing that this was going to be a lot bigger. No one ever anticipated that it was going to be what it was. I still stay in touch from time to time with protest organizers and even they say it was a perfect storm, no one anticipated it. It was a harbinger event.

Since that time, most protests have been highly organized like the WTO was. The WTO was the first time they used hand-held walkie-talkies, they brought in their own radio station to transmit, there was a lot of information technology that was used by the protestors to organize. So it was a huge change not only in the way police worked in civil unrest but also how protestors organize. So it was fascinating history.

Radil: What words of advice would you have for next chief of the Seattle Police Department?

Pugel: I think being as transparent  – I know that word is overused – but being as transparent as possible and always being able to admit when you’ve done something wrong and admit when you’ve done something right.

Full interview with retired Assistant Chief Jim Pugel