Seattle’s police chief stepped down on Monday. John Diaz announced his retirement 33 years after starting with the Seattle Police Department – and one week after a pair of outside reviews criticized SPD under his tenure.
Seattle Police have been under the microscope for problems including alleged discrimination and excessive use of force. But Diaz, age 55, says he and his wife had planned for him to retire some time in 2013. With policing reforms mandated under a Justice Department consent decree well under way, he said now is a good time.
“I won’t stand here and say that every decision I made was right. But what I will say is that I tried to make every decision based on what I believed was right. I leave here pretty proud of my career here.”
Diaz told reporters that an independent review out last week faulting police handling of last year’s May Day demonstrations had nothing to do with his departure.
“Absolutely not,” Diaz said. “If all of you remember, I was the one that commissioned the report to be done.”
As is often standard procedure when a public official steps down, his boss had nothing but praise for him. Mayor Mike McGinn hailed Diaz as an innovator and reformer.
“Major crime is down 10 percent since he took control of the department and is now at a 55-year low in the city,” McGinn said.
Diaz became interim police chief in 2009 and permanent chief in 2010.
McGinn said retirement was Diaz’ decision; Diaz told KUOW that McGinn did not ask him to leave.
It’s not unusual for a big-city police chief to leave his post soon after his department comes under a federal monitoring agreement, as Seattle did in July. Police chiefs in Los Angeles and Detroit both left less than a year after they signed consent decrees with the Justice Department.
In Los Angeles, the changing of the guard was when reform of that troubled police department “truly began,” according to the federal monitor.
Attorney James Bible, president of the Seattle-King County branch of the NAACP, said the Seattle Police lacked accountability and transparency under Diaz.
“What was created under Chief Diaz and others was the illusion of fairness at the detriment of the people,” Bible said. He said he hoped new leadership would bring the opportunity for genuine, institution-wide reform.
“What we want to see is for our Seattle Police Department to protect and serve our entire community,” Jennifer Shaw with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said. “We haven’t seen that lately, and we’re hoping that will change.” Shaw said the ACLU was less concerned with who’s at the top of the SPD than with how it carries out the reforms mandated by its agreement with the Justice Department.
Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel will become interim chief in May. Mayor McGinn said he doesn’t expect a permanent chief to be in place until after this November’s mayoral elections.