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.