Mayor appoints new interim Seattle police chief

  • Wed Jan 8th, 2014 3:53pm
  • News

By Gene Johnson Associated Press

SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Ed Murray named a new interim police chief Wednesday to focus on court-overseen reforms while a permanent replacement is sought.

Harry Bailey, a former Seattle assistant chief who retired in 2007, will lead the department for the next few months. He takes the place of Jim Pugel, who is returning to his prior position of assistant chief.

The change wasn’t a reflection on Pugel’s performance, the mayor said, only on the importance of having an interim chief who isn’t applying for the top job and who is committed to seeing through on reforms the department promised in an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Murray was elected last fall and pledged during his inauguration Monday to make police reform a top priority.

“Earlier this week, I pledged to make Seattle a model for urban policing for the rest of the nation,” Murray said at a news conference Wednesday. “I am not willing to wait for the hiring of a permanent chief to move forward on the consent decree.”

The Justice Department investigated the Seattle police after several questionable use-of-force incidents, including the fatal shooting of a Native American woodcarver in 2010. The DOJ determined that officers were too quick to reach for weapons such as flashlights and batons, even when arresting people for minor offenses.

Following difficult negotiations, the sides agreed to a deal calling on the police department to revise its use of force policies and to enhance training, reporting, investigation and supervision for situations involving the use of force. A monitoring team was appointed to track the changes and to report back to the U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Some major reform benchmarks have been met, including a federal judge’s approval of a new policy that details when officers can use force and requires all but minimal force to be reported. Nevertheless, the monitor found lingering resistance to change in the department. Murray said the city is done arguing with the DOJ about the changes; compliance with the court agreement is mandatory; and failure would mean years of monitoring.

“We need this cloud to be removed, and we need our officers respected,” Murray said.

Murray also named a citizen commission to help screen applicants for the permanent job.

Pugel was named interim chief by then-Mayor Mike McGinn last April, when Chief John Diaz retired after a rocky three-year tenure.

In brief remarks, Bailey said he was ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work. A 35-year Seattle police veteran, he is the first African-American to head the department and is seen as having close ties with the city’s minority communities. After retiring, he served as director of security for the NBA’s Seattle Sonics, which later became the Oklahoma City Thunder, and held a similar position as a volunteer for Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle.

“Reform is the top thing on my agenda,” he said.

The Seattle Police Officers Guild, which represents about 1,250 officers and sergeants, welcomed the appointment.

“Chief Bailey has dedicated his life to public service and especially the Seattle Police Department,” the union said in a news release. “He worked his way up through the ranks and demonstrated throughout his career a commitment and love for this department and the Seattle community.”

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