In another shake-up in the top ranks of the Seattle Police Department, Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey announced Friday that he has put a different assistant chief in charge of patrol operations.
Assistant Chief Nick Metz, a longtime member of the command staff, was handed the assignment in the wake of recent revelations of a major drop in enforcement activity.
Metz most recently has served as commander of the Field Support Bureau, overseeing information technology, human resources, the 911 call center, community outreach and computer analysis of crime patterns.
He replaces Assistant Chief Joe Kessler, who was put in charge of patrol operations in January after being promoted from captain. Kessler moves to the Homeland Security Bureau, and Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, who’d headed that bureau, shifts to the Field Support Bureau.
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“Change is normal in any organization,” Bailey said in a statement released Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day weekend. “I have placed my commanders in these new assignments because this is the best fit for my department and the community which we serve.”
Just last week, a report from a department official revealed that enforcement of lower-level crimes, traffic offenses and infractions had fallen dramatically in recent years as officers displayed less willingness to actively seek out illegal activity.
No reasons were given for the decline, but the drops occurred during a time when the department fell under intense scrutiny over use of force, a federal consent decree requiring sweeping reforms to curtail excessive force and biased policing, and shifts in what laws were enforced and prosecuted.
Kessler couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, and police sources said they were unaware of any link between the changes and the report.
On Saturday, a source with knowledge of police operations, said the changes stemmed from a sense that there was a lack of urgency over a recent spate of shootings in South Seattle.
Much of the enforcement decline mentioned in the report occurred before Kessler took command of patrol, but continued into the first quarter of this year.
Mayor Ed Murray expressed dismay last week over the findings, revealed at a meeting of the Community Police Commission.
Murray said the statistics appeared to support the belief of many in the community that, in recent years, there had been a significant decrease in “proactive enforcement” by police.
Among the findings was a 49 percent drop in misdemeanor cases filed in court between 2005 and 2013, along with steep declines in how often officers on their own investigated activity, including checks of suspicious people and vehicles.
The moves came four days after Murray announced that former Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole is his choice to become Seattle’s next police chief. O’Toole, if confirmed by the City Council, could become chief by the end of June.
Bailey’s announcement represented the latest in a series of shake-ups since late last year, when then-Interim Chief Jim Pugel demoted Metz and another assistant chief to their civil-service ranks of captain after a federal monitor’s report criticized the pace of reform.
Murray, when he took office in January, replaced Pugel with Bailey, who reinstated Metz and rearranged the command staff.
Pugel later retired in lieu of being demoted to captain. Before that, two other assistant chiefs said they would retire amid the fallout from the federal oversight.
Bailey also announced Friday that Capt. John Hayes will move from head of the South Precinct to the Compliance and Professional Standards Bureau to take command of community outreach. Lt. Steve Strand will be the acting captain of the South Precinct.
Seattle Times reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this story, which includes information from Seattle Times archives.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302