Mayor Bruce Harrell appointed Interim Chief Adrian Diaz to the permanent position as head of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in a press conference on Sept. 20, the culmination of a months-long national search process.
Diaz has held the interim position since former Chief Carmen Best resigned in 2020 amid the protests against police brutality sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the subsequent backlash from the Seattle City Council and movement to cut police budgets.
Harrell, who was a vocal supporter of Diaz while he was interim chief, stressed that Diaz had “intangibles” such as “chemistry” and a “wow factor” as well as existing relationships with and knowledge of the Seattle community that made him right for the job. The new chief will focus on crime, gun violence, police accountability, alternative responses to police and department culture.
Diaz is a person “who will make bold decisions, unpopular decisions, but are the right thing to do,” Harrell said.
Diaz expressed his deep gratitude for the appointment, acknowledging the difficult relationship between police and community members alongside the strain that current staffing levels have had on officers.
“My commitment to lead the Seattle Police Department is based in community,” Diaz said. “I’m committed to ensuring that the community is at the forefront of all of SPD’s work and engagement, and I’m committed to ensuring that the department restores safety citywide.”
He said that the city “requires action on crime, on gun violence, on perceived and real issues of safety,” and that Seattleites are “demanding a safer city.”
Reports of violent crime have increased in the city, according to police statistics. The most recent “Shots Fired” report from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office showed a jump in gun violence that disproportionately impacted communities of color.
However, advocates argue that policing is reactive and that resources that go to police could be better spent by reinvesting in communities in ways that address root causes of crime.
As recently as the week before his appointment, Diaz was one of three people in the running for the job. The selection process began in April. Fourteen candidates applied, a group that was winnowed down to five that took exams. Those five became three: Diaz, SPD Assistant Chief Eric Greening and Tucson Assistant Chief Kevin Hall. The finalists participated in televised interviews on the Seattle Channel on Sept. 15.
The city ran a parallel community engagement process to receive public input, including a survey that attracted more than 1,300 participants.
City Council President Debora Juarez, who was present at the press conference, said that she was initially resistant to participating in the search process but described it as “honest” and “raw.” She also said that the group had to “talk about the elephant in the room: defund the police” and other, difficult public safety topics.
Juarez and her fellow councilmembers must still approve Diaz’s appointment.
If approved, Diaz will take over in an environment markedly different from when he assumed command in 2020. The current City Council recently approved bonuses to retain existing officers and hire new ones in an effort to boost the number of police in the city, which has fallen to its lowest levels in recent years.
He has plenty to do.
The police department remains under the auspices of a federal consent decree, which officials believe is in its final stages. SPD must attract hundreds of new officers and put them through the new “Beyond the Badge” program. He will need to continue to implement alternatives to police responses and said that he plans to make the case to the City Council to fund a new model to measure and address disparities in enforcement.
Read more of the Sept. 21-27, 2022 issue.