January 22, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 4

News

Under tight deadline, SPD seeks a chief who will lead reform

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

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It typically takes a year to 18 months for a city to find a new police chief. Mayor Ed Murray has said he will appoint a new chief to head the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in four months.

To accomplish that, he’s appointing a search team of 12 people and a Community Advisory Committee of 32 people to set the expectations and parameters for the search. He’s also holding seven public meetings to get input from residents on what kind of chief they want.

“It’ll be an extensive process,” Murray said at a Jan. 8 press conference, when he introduced the 32-person Community Advisory Committee and the new interim police chief, retired SPD assistant chief Harry Bailey. “We want extensive input.”

The search will be similar to previous searches, but the time frame is compressed. It took more than a year to appoint retired Police Chief John Diaz in 2010. This group will have to finish its work within just a few months.

Lisa Daugaard, deputy director of the Public Defender Association said group members have one thing in common: The majority of voices are calling for a chief who embraces change, including the federally mandated reforms to the police department and new ways of addressing poverty and mental illness.

“The major change is not how they’re going about it, but the time in which it’s happening and a real shift in community expectation,” she said. “People want a very different approach to dealing with issues of urban poverty than we’ve necessarily seen before.”

The city is in a years-long process of reforming SPD following a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Justice that found that Seattle officers have a pattern and practice of excessive force. In August of 2012, the city of Seattle entered into a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to reform the police department within three years under the guidance of a federal judge.

Whoever takes over the top position at SPD, vacated by John Diaz in April of 2013, shoulders the heavy burden of bringing about major reforms to the 400-officer department.

The Community Advisory Committee, a 32-member body, was announced Jan. 8 and met for the first time on Jan. 13. The group started laying the groundwork for the search for a new police chief. The group is tasked with setting the parameters and expectations for what kind of chief the search team will find, said Jay Hollingsworth, chair of the John T. Williams Organizing Committee and member of the Community Police Commission and the Community Advisory Committee

The group meets next on Feb. 13 at City Hall at 6 p.m. Before then, the members will appear at seven public meetings scheduled to collect input from Seattle residents.

As Murray promised during his campaign, he brought together a wide group of people to talk about the new police chief. The 32 people on the Community Advisory Committee include residents from each of the police department’s five precincts.

“It looks like Seattle,” said Rev. Harriett Walden, executive director of Mothers for Police Accountability, who is also a member of the Community Police Commission and was one of the 32 appointed to the Community Advisory Committee.

The group has four months to complete work that in the past has taken more than a year, Hollingsworth said.

“They’re going to do their best,” Hollingsworth said, adding, “They’re just not going to be able to do a complete job.”

Walden, however, was encouraged by how quickly the group was appointed and functioning.

“I’ve been part of the process more than once, and I’m glad to see that it’s going to get off to a fast start,” she said.

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