A RECENT flurry of personnel changes among the command staff of the Seattle Police Department by Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel is a positive, if belated, step forward.
The shake-up is a window on the reforms insiders feel are necessary to meet the conditions of a 2012 settlement agreement with the Department of Justice related to biased policing and use of force.
Give Pugel credit for making tough decisions about two senior department leaders, but City Hall cannot step back from the broadest possible search for a new police chief. How does Pugel, or any other local applicants, stand up against the competition?
These recent actions were no doubt goaded along by a harsh progress report by DOJ plan monitor Merrick Bobb. His role is to keep U.S. District Judge James Robart apprised of the remedial work under way.
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Bobb’s Nov. 15 draft report was especially critical. He was particularly blunt about SPD’s failure to accurately collect data and use information technology to track police performance. Pugel subsequently demoted the assistant chief in charge.
As disturbing as Pugel’s reassignments no doubt have been within the department, they have given outsiders a peek at a Byzantine world of titles and fiefdoms with consequences for law enforcement on the street.
Mayor-elect Ed Murray has named an adviser, Bernard Melekian, to help with transition issues on law enforcement and public safety. The new mayor is wise to get good counsel, and keep his options open.
Bobb’s withering review of the SPD’s progress is a useful template for picking the next chief. Bobb’s frustrations were clearly reflected in the management shuffling that came next under Pugel’s direction.
As other gaps in management are revealed, and remedial action taken, keep the search for a new chief wide open. No one should be precluded from applying or final selection.
The department is working its way through serious issues that took years to develop. It also took a harsh outside assessment to begin the task.