“A Bundle of Ideas”: Acting Chief Adrian Diaz Talks Reforms

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Last week, I spent 90 minutes with interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, addressing a small group of civic folks. He was a welcome surprise — down to earth, direct, a bundle of ideas, and one who knows policing has to change for a new time. 

It’s clear that being a chief today is like nothing in Diaz’s 21 years as a Seattle police officer (Mountain Bike Unit/Investigations Bureau/Tactics instructor/Deputy Chief) — especially these last 20 months of pandemic/CHOP/George Floyd aftermath/near record homicide numbers (53 in 2020, the second highest ever), and soaring overdose deaths (700 last year) from drug abuse, fentanyl in particular. Given all this, Diaz sees an opportunity, a good time to make change and to rethink policing by challenging the status quo of policing. One big opportunity will be all the new hires for a decimated department. With resignations/retirements and a lag in recruitment, Diaz has 958 deployable officers but says he needs at least 1,400 to have effective accountability and public safety.

One obvious focus will be the stretch of Third Avenue downtown, which is rife with visible drug deals, addiction, and shuttered stores from months of shoplifting.  Diaz cited some constraints: the state’s LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) law means only repeated drug use arrests can lead to prosecution; plus a recent judicial/prosecution reluctance to jail repeat offenders (petty theft, drug dealing).  Diaz says that the just-announced Municipal Court/City Attorney agreement to actually go after repeat offenders will make a difference.

Diaz is serious about officer behavior and better training, not just in traditional police work, but also in social skills and de-escaltion of confrontations. On accountability, Diaz says he has terminated more officers for behavioral reasons (19 in the last 20 months) than perhaps anywhere else in the country.  He has three unbreakable demands of officers — don’t be racist, don’t lie, don’t commit a crime.

Mayor Harrell has gotten to know Diaz well over the years and has given him time to prove he’s up to the top job (21 months so far). The Mayor will do a search for a permanent police chief, and Diaz is a leading candidate. At this session, Diaz made a compelling case to become the chief for our time.

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Mike James was a long-time anchor newscaster at KING TV.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting that Diaz can fire seemingly at will for “behavioral reasons”, but when Best fired an officer for breaking a handcuffed girl’s face, SPD had to take it all the way through Washington Court of Appeals.

    Different contract now, than 2014, but still the (expired) contract from 2018, which was not highly regarded (by for example the judge overseeing the consent decree) as a big step forward for reform. The officer protections in that agreement seem to revolve around incident investigations, such as would be brought by a complaint from an outside party; maybe the chief can work through a different HR mechanism here, with less union interference?

  2. Not sure “Reforms” in policing should be a top priority.
    Our judicial system needs be taken seriously and the city’s voters need to determine what is most important……… Legal drug usage or Less crime.

  3. I was also present at the Chief’s presentation and, to quote one of the observers there, Chief Diaz showed himself to be “an excellent Assistant Chief” — affable, data-rich, protective, in favor of modest changes. For too long, Seattle’s city hall has favored insiders for the job of top cop, even though there was one shining example of a successful outsider, Chief Kathleen O’Toole, appointed by Mayor Ed Murray and serving from 2014-18. Mayor Durkan was intent on appointing an outsider, but backed down under pressure from Chief Carmen Best’s local supporters. You would think some councilmembers and police-reform advocates would be clamoring for an O’Toole equivalent, but these are times when strong change agents are thought to be too risky.

    • Happy to be proven wrong, but given all of the recent (and ongoing) defund/abolitionist agitation and anti-cop negativity from a substantial swath of the Seattle left I doubt there are all that many top tier outsiders who are going to want the job. Even more so after Mayor Harrell signaled at the outset of the search that he’s favorably inclined towards Chief Diaz.

      Anyway, I’ve met the chief and quite like him. As Mike suggests above, he seems to me like a pretty good fit for Seattle, both temperamentally and ideologically.

    • Ah, you’re implying that Harrell actually has another choice other than hiring Diaz for the top spot? Remember in Seattle, “All cops are bastards”, You believe the police reform advocates would actually support any reasonable outside candidate? Any nationwide search for a new chief would end up a political food fight. Can’t blame the mayor if he promotes Diaz and is done with it, because the political capital he’ll spend promoting an outsider just won’t be worth it. Remember this?

      https://crosscut.com/2018/05/emails-show-uproar-over-seattle-police-chief-picks

      I guess the blame lies with Seattle voters for electing council members who see themselves more as protesters than leaders.

  4. Given Seattle’s historic proclivity for “outsiders”, let’s hope this perennial blind spot for talented, local women and men does not scuttle Asst. Chief Diaz’ candidacy. Another risk is a city council powered by “new age” ideologies that could well preclude approving a practical, talented and experienced candidate like Diaz.

    Nice job Mike.

    Sam Sperry

  5. Thanks for covering this Mike. I know Adrian well from working with him when he was the SPD point person for the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. He managed both the Outreach Team and the School Resource Officers (he had been one). The Outreach Team was a critical element in reducing youth (12-18 years of age) violence by 47% within five years. Supported vigorously by both the U WA School of Sociology and the communities that managed this program (SE, SW, and Central Seattle), this highly successful effort was terminated by Mayor Ed Murray. It was embarrassing to try to explain to the communities why this happened. Nevertheless, Adrian was a key element in the success of the program. He is soft spoken, humble, smart and a natural listener. We should be so lucky to have such a homegrown candidate for police chief. Ed Murray apparently wanted the money for something else, but a very mistaken decision, among others.

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