With news coverage across the city dotted with descriptions including “embattled,” “quiet,” and “Latino,” John Diaz, Seattle’s first minority police chief stepped down Monday ending a four-year run in a job where his leadership and style were increasingly under scrutiny and his department struggled with how best to implement Justice Department-mandate changes.
“I have a lot of thank yous but I’m going to keep this press conference short because you know how much I love doing those,” Diaz joked Monday morning.
Diaz, an East Precinct commander from 1995 to 2000, was promoted to interim chief in spring 2009 as Gil Kerlikowske left the city for Washington D.C. to become the nation’s drug czar. Mayor Mike McGinn eventually boosted Diaz and made him the full-time head of the department.
At the press conference, McGinn gave Diaz credit for overseeing the drug market initiative at 23rd and Union that played a role in an “84 percent” drop in crime at the corner.
The mayor also mentioned the 2009 murder of Officer Timothy Brenton at 29th and Yesler, shortly after Diaz took the job as interim Chief. He praised the department and Diaz for catching alleged shooter Christopher Monfort.
Meanwhile, an eight month DOJ investigation of Seattle policing released in winter 2011 revealed troubling findings about the department’s use of force. Last summer, Justice filed a consent decree and negotiated a plan with SPD to overhaul the department.
As the 2013 mayoral election year heated up, McGinn’s support for Diaz faced increased challenges as opponents criticized the chief for creating a “crisis in public confidence” in the city.
On Capitol Hill, Diaz’s period of leadership will likely be remembered for challenges SPD faced in dealing with the Occupy movement and anti-police protests as well as episodes of controversial use of force like the Ian Birk shooting.
When Diaz started in the role, he said his priorities in the period were improving neighborhood patrols and reducing gang violence in the city. The Mayor’s office claims crime has dropped 10 percent under Diaz’s watch.
Assistant Chief Jim Pugel will take over as interim chief. He served as a liaison between SPD and Justice during negotiations around the consent decree.
McGinn and Diaz deflected questions about the timing of the resignation. Diaz said he felt that he had key changes and initiatives in place and was looking forward to ending his 36-year police career. McGinn said it was Diaz’s decision alone to leave at this time.
“It’s no secret to anyone that it’s been a challenging, turbulent time for our city and the police department,” Mayor McGinn said.