Hours after naming Harry C. Bailey to head the Seattle Police Department, Mayor Ed Murray sent a pointed letter to the department’s officers Wednesday, thanking them for the dangerous work they do while insisting they accept federal reforms to address excessive force and biased policing.
“Department leadership will not tolerate misconduct or discrimination during my administration. Nor will I,” Murray wrote in what represented an extraordinary step on his eighth day in office.
“Community policing must be the department’s operating philosophy, not merely a series of special projects,” Murray added in the two-page letter.
“And while the Seattle Police Department is a good department,” Murray wrote, in striving for excellence, “good enough,” isn’t.
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“We can — and will — do better,” he wrote.
Murray disclosed his plan to send the letter at a packed news conference Wednesday where he formally named Bailey — a former assistant Seattle police chief who retired in 2007 — to replace Jim Pugel as interim police chief.
Murray said officers previously had not received a clear message from city leaders.
“Today that is coming to an end,” he said.
Murray emphatically declared that police reform cannot wait until a permanent chief is selected, saying “failure is not an option.”
Bailey, 69, will serve until the city completes a national search for a permanent chief, which the mayor hopes to conclude by April.
Murray lauded Bailey as a highly respected leader who has pledged not to seek the permanent job so he can fully concentrate on complying with court-ordered reforms to address U.S. Department of Justice findings of excessive force and troubling evidence of biased policing.
As interim chief, Murray said, Bailey needs to fully focus on that task, without the burden of people questioning his motives if he sought the permanent position.
Bailey appeared in full dress uniform in a City Hall room ringed with Seattle officers, many of whom worked with him during his 35-year career with the Police Department.
Pledging to roll up his sleeves, he said he would make reform “the top thing on my agenda” and revealed he will form a compliance and reform bureau within the department to provide “one-stop shopping” for getting the work done.
Bailey immediately took over from Pugel, whom former Mayor Mike McGinn named as interim chief in April to replace Police Chief John Diaz when he retired.
Pugel had announced his intention to seek the permanent job, making it unlikely Murray would retain him as interim chief. He will return to the rank of assistant chief with a special assignment to develop “harm reduction” methods in policing.
Murray praised Pugel for his dedication and for embracing reforms, saying the change was not a reflection of Pugel’s work.
Under Pugel’s leadership, the department recently adopted a sweeping new use-of-force policy, crafted under the terms of a 2012 settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. Pugel also demoted two assistant chiefs, but only after the federal monitor overseeing the reforms cited a lack of progress.
Murray said he brought up his desire to move forward with reform in a December meeting in Washington, D.C., with President Obama and new mayors.
Obama promised to help, offering to arrange a meeting with Justice Department officials, Murray said.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan issued a statement praising Pugel and Bailey, saying Murray had “charted a clear course for moving forward.” She said the next few months will be “critical to the reform process.”
Bailey declined to say whether he agreed with the Justice Department’s finding that officers had routinely used unnecessary force, sidestepping it as an issue that has “left the station.”
Murray said Bailey will be given the freedom to make personnel decisions but deflected questions about whether two assistant chiefs — Clark Kimerer and Mike Sanford — will retain their jobs.
Murray called his selection of a permanent chief the most important decision he will make as mayor.
“It is important I get it right,” he said.
Murray announced the formation of a 12-member search committee, a size he described as smaller than past committees designated with the task. He said he hoped to avoid getting bogged down in what he characterized as Seattle’s penchant for “process.”
Among the members will be City Council President Tim Burgess; Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the council’s public-safety committees; Sue Rahr, a former King County sheriff who now oversees the state police-training academy; and police Officer Ron Smith, expected to become the new president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.
The committee will work with a search firm yet to be selected and will present three names as finalists.
Murray also unveiled a 32-member citizen-advisory committee, which will work on a dual track collecting community feedback.
Both committees will be overseen by two co-chairs, Ron Sims, the former King County executive and deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Pramila Jayapal, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change and founder and former executive director of OneAmerica, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant, civil and human rights.
Murray said he is looking for a new chief who can restore the morale of the police and the community’s respect for the department.
At Murray’s request, Pugel did not attend the news conference. Murray explained he didn’t want to give the appearance that Bailey’s selection was a reflection on Pugel’s job performance.
Pugel did not comment Wednesday, but in an interview Friday, as rumors of his replacement circulated, he said he fully expected to step aside as interim chief if that was a requirement for him to apply for the permanent job.
Bailey’s appointment drew positive reactions from leaders of the department’s two unions who attended the news conference.
Capt. Eric Sano, head of the Seattle Police Management Association, which represents captains and lieutenants, said, “We’re excited” to work with Bailey.
Sgt. Rich O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said he’s “overjoyed” that Murray selected Bailey.
“Harry Bailey had dedicated his entire life to this city,” O’Neill said, adding that he thinks it is crucial that the person who is the interim chief is not a person wanting the permanent job.
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or email@example.com.