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Mayor Murray: Seattle Police Shakeup Avoids 'Collision Course'

KUOW Photo/Amy Radil

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, sworn in on Monday, wasted no time hiring a new interim police chief: Former Assistant Chief Harry Bailey.

Murray made the announcement on Wednesday, saying that Bailey was returning to oversee the Seattle Police Department during the hiring process. Murray said he hopes to choose a permanent chief by April.

Murray also said he wants an interim chief who is not seeking the permanent job, as former interim Chief Jim Pugel intends to do. Pugel is expected to return to his previous rank of assistant chief.

“To have an interim who’s also applying for that position making incredibly controversial decisions, I believe, would damage the process of the consent decree, potentially damage that person’s career,” Murray said. “I think this is a cleaner process.”

Murray also said a federal monitor has only seen “marginal movement” on reform since Pugel took over as interim chief in April. The federal monitor has supervised the department since summer 2012. The monitor was put in place after the US Department of Justice found that patrol officers had been using excessive force.  

Police officers packed the room at City Hall on Wednesday and applauded when Bailey stepped to the podium. He said continuing court-ordered reforms at the department is one of his priorities, along with “building the confidence of the community, and making the officers know that you can go out and do your work and have the kinds of support that you need.”

The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild endorsed Murray during the mayor’s race. Spokesman Rich O’Neill, who has been part of previous hiring committees, said Murray’s decision makes sense.

“There is a feeling that when you have an interim chief that also wants the permanent job, it’s just messy,” He said. When someone is in the running for the job, he said, their personnel decisions may be greeted with more skepticism.

None has been more controversial than Pugel’s demotion of now-Captain Nick Metz.

Metz, the highest-ranking African-American officer at the department, attended Wednesday’s announcement and was greeted by Bailey with a bear hug. Metz said he has a high opinion of Bailey’s leadership as well. 

“The mayor’s made a very bold statement about where he wants to see the department go, and I think it’s an exciting time to see what happens,” he said.

Lisa Daugaard of the Public Defender Association co-chairs the Community Police Commission, which was formed as part of the consent decree with the US Justice Department. She emphasized that she doesn’t speak for the commission on this issue. But she said Pugel has been a reformer, especially in drug policy.

“I think he has made a good chief in Seattle and we very much need to continue in the direction he has started us off,” Dugaard said.

The latest court-appointed monitor’s report praises Pugel for “open-mindedness and responsiveness.” But it also cites “intransigence and aversion to innovation” within the department.

Year started with KUOW: 2005