In a move that has sent shock waves through the Seattle Police Department, Assistant Chief Nick Metz, one of the most visible and longest-serving members of the senior command staff, will leave the position in the wake of a highly critical report on the progress of police reforms.
Department members were told of the change in an email Wednesday from Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel, two days after the announcement that another assistant chief took a demotion to captain in what represents the biggest shake-up in the top ranks in years.
Pugel gave Metz an ultimatum: Take an assignment to captain or accept a severance package, according to sources familiar with the move.
In emotional written messages to the department and community issued shortly after Pugel’s announcement, Metz said he had accepted the demotion and would continue to serve with the “same level of care and professionalism that I promised when I took my oath over thirty years ago.”
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Metz, who became an assistant chief in 2001, said the change would be effective Monday. There were no details about his new role.
Metz, 51, one of the most popular chiefs among the rank and file and the department’s highest-ranking African-American officer, joined the department in 1983 and rose through the ranks.
Pugel’s action represents the most dramatic personnel fallout since the city entered into a July 2012 settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to curb excessive force and biased policing. A Nov. 15 draft report from the federal monitor overseeing the court-ordered reforms sharply criticized the pace of change.
Pugel, who has declined to discuss personnel matters, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
A source close to Pugel said Metz was viewed as an impediment to reform and that Pugel wanted to send a strong message through the ranks that change is required.
Capt. Carmen Best, who heads the South Precinct, is to be promoted to assistant chief and replace Metz as head of the Investigations Bureau, according to Pugel’s email, a copy of which was obtained by The Seattle Times.
Capt. John Hayes Jr. will take Best’s place in the South Precinct.
Pugel wrote that he had given extensive consideration to the decisions over the past weeks and months and was guided by the “four pillars of our mission: Justice, Excellence, Humility and Harm Reduction.”
“I believe these decisions will help us to further our progress towards these important goals and I thank all of you for your dedication and service,” he added.
Pugel wrote that he had planned to announce the changes Dec. 2, but decided to accelerate the timing because of “rumors and disclosures” that came from outside his office.
Pugel earlier this week informed the department of the demotion of Assistant Chief Dick Reed, who asked to return to the rank of captain to run the 911 call center.
Reed has overseen the department’s technology and data-collection operations, which were criticized in the draft report of the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb.
Bobb also cited resistance to the reforms among some in the top ranks — although he did not provide names — and failures in reviewing shootings by officers.
Assistant chiefs serve at the pleasure of the police chief; captains fall in the civil-service ranks.
Previously, Metz served as one of two deputy chiefs, the second-highest rank in the department, until Pugel eliminated the position after he became interim chief in April.
Metz was moved to the rank of assistant chief, one of six in the department.
As deputy chief, Metz held a key role at a time when the department came under scrutiny from the Justice Department in 2011 after a series of high-profile violent confrontations between officers and citizens, some caught on video.
In a December 2011 report, the Justice Department said it had found a “pattern or practice” of excessive force and troubling evidence of biased policing.
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chairman of the council’s public-safety committee, said Wednesday that Pugel had been asked to seriously look at who was responsible for longstanding problems in the department and to make changes he believed to be appropriate.
Metz earned $179,664 in 2011, the most recent year in payroll records. It is unclear how his salary will be affected by the demotion.
In recent years, Metz has been a prominent voice of the department, often speaking to news media at high-profile crime scenes.
In his message to the community, he reflected on his time in the department.
“No matter what the change or challenge, the women and men of the Seattle Police Department (both sworn and civilian) have always stepped up, ready to serve our great city,” he wrote.
Best, 48, who joined the Police Department in 1992, was promoted to captain in September and assigned as commander of the South Precinct. Her promotion to assistant chief represents an unusually rapid rise.
Pugel, in his email, referred to her “decisive leadership, efficiency as an administrator and tireless work ethic.”
Best has served as media-relations supervisor, a watch commander and a lieutenant in operations, narcotics, robbery, gangs and community outreach.
Hayes, 59, joined the department in 1982 and has held various positions.
Pugel’s email called him a “highly regarded” leader with close ties to the South Precinct.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich