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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 12, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 15
Choosing Seattle's next police chief
Section One
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Choosing Seattle's next police chief

Mayoral candidates differ on timing of search

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle should not be in a rush to choose a successor for retiring Police Chief John Diaz, State Senator Ed Murray said in a statement released April 8. Murray, a candidate for mayor of Seattle, worried that the process of choosing a new chief would become politicized by the mayoral race.

"I am ... very concerned about the timing of this announcement, coming as it does in the midst of a hotly contested mayor's race," Murray said. "We must be very careful and deliberate in choosing the next chief."

He continued, "Given the challenges this department faces, we need to conduct a thorough national search to find the best possible replacement to bring about the cultural change that is needed. But I worry that the political uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the mayor's race will lead many top-tier candidates to not apply. And if we do have a new mayor in November, that leader has to be comfortable with the next chief, or the disruption in the department will be even worse."

McGINN MUST DECIDE
Diaz's retirement turned the page on one set of political problems for incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn, but it opened up other difficulties.

Seattle is currently under a federal consent decree requiring the city to implement reforms in its police department. The federal Department of Justice issued a blistering report in 2011 accusing SPD of a "pattern" of excessive and unconstitutional use of force.

Seattle City Council member and former police officer Tim Burgess, also a candidate for mayor, pinned the blame on Diaz and promised to fire him if he is elected. Diaz's departure now removes that as an issue in the campaign, but raises the question of how and when to fill the vacancy at the top of SPD.

Other issues also remain. McGinn recently touched off a jurisdictional dispute with City Attorney Pete Holmes over who has final authority in implementing the reform plan. And the city's police union has filed suit challenging the right of the independent monitor to alter the union's collective bargaining agreement with the city.

In his April 8 statement, Murray said that Diaz should take all the blame for problems in the department. "With respect to today's announcement that Seattle Police Chief John Diaz is stepping down, I am concerned that this announcement not be taken as a sign that SPD's problems are now solved," he said.

"The problem with SPD is a failure of leadership, and that leadership begins with the mayor. We need a new mayor, one who is committed to positive reform and who will work to transform the culture of our police department."

HARRELL: MOVE FORWARD NOW
While Murray and Burgess favor a deliberate, national search for a new chief, City Council member Bruce Harrell, another candidate for mayor, wants to see the position filled quickly.

"I don't think you wait," Harrell told the Seattle P-I in an April 8 interview. "The city would be ducking its responsibilities. A lame-duck department delays decisions."

Another mayoral candidate, former City Council member Peter Steinbrueck, said it would be "ill-advised to move in a hurry. Whoever is chosen as the next Seattle chief must act with the confidence of whoever is Seattle mayor. The outcome of the election is uncertain."

MURRAY'S CRITERIA
Asked by SGN what qualities he would look for in a new police chief if he were mayor, Murray answered that the new chief must be willing and able to fulfill the terms of the Justice Department consent decree.

"I believe the appointment of the new chief is perhaps the most critically important decision the next mayor will make," he told SGN.

"Reforming SPD's culture and restoring the public's trust is no easy task. The new chief must have a track record of successfully implementing transformative change, and he or she must have the respect of our line officers and must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to fulfilling the terms of the DOJ consent decree.

"And the next chief must also have demonstrated proven skills working in an diverse urban environment. With a new leader in the mayor's office, a national search will attract the best and brightest candidates."

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