Assistant Seattle Police Chief Mike Sanford announced his intent to retire Monday, as the dismantling of top brass continued in the wake of court-ordered reforms to address excessive force and biased policing in the ranks.
Sanford, 53, who joined the Police Department in 1984, informed the department he will retire March 31 and take immediate leave before then.
Sanford oversees the department’s Professional Standards Bureau and has taken a lead role in implementing reforms stemming from a Department of Justice investigation that found officers had routinely used unnecessary force and displayed troubling but inconclusive evidence of discriminatory policing.
The city entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Justice Department in July 2012, overseen by U.S. District Judge James Robart and a federal monitor.
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Sanford is the third assistant chief to depart the command staff in the past two months, in a department that also has seen three police chiefs since reaching the settlement agreement.
Former Chief John Diaz announced his retirement in April after seeing the department through the tumult of the Justice Department investigation. He was replaced by Jim Pugel, a longtime assistant chief whom then-Mayor Mike McGinn named interim chief.
In November, Pugel announced the demotions of assistant chiefs Nick Metz and Dick Reed to the rank of captain, shortly after the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, issued a draft report sharply criticizing the pace of reforms.
Last week, new Mayor Ed Murray appointed Harry C. Bailey, a former assistant chief in the department, to replace Pugel while Murray conducts a nationwide search for a permanent chief.
Murray said he wanted an interim chief who wouldn’t apply for the permanent position, a job Pugel plans to seek but that Bailey promised not to pursue. Pugel returned to the rank of assistant chief.
Besides Pugel, Sanford’s departure leaves only one longtime member of the brass, assistant chief Clark Kimerer.
Bailey was said by a source to be considering whether to retain Kimerer, the longest serving member of the command staff who was named an assistant chief in 1999.
Sanford was the subject of a Seattle Times story Saturday that reported he helped arrange a $45,000 consulting contract with a former department official who had previously cleared him of wrongdoing in an internal investigation.
But Sanford appeared to have made his decision before the story appeared, according to a source familiar with his plans.
Sanford, in an email sent Monday afternoon and obtained by The Times, informed Bailey of his decisions.
Sanford said he asked Capt. Chris Fowler to be the acting assistant chief over the Professional Standards Bureau.
Fowler is considered to be a rising leader in the department, who earned praise for his deft handling of disturbances during last year’s May Day protests in downtown Seattle.
Sanford told Bailey he plans to take care of personal matters between now and his retirement date.
“It has been an incredible honor to be a Seattle Police Officer for the past almost thirty years,” Sanford wrote, adding, “I wish you the very best as our new Chief.”
Bailey, in a statement posted on the department’s website, said, “I would like to congratulate Assistant Chief Mike Sanford on his retirement from the Seattle Police Department. Chief Sanford has been a valuable asset to the Seattle Police Department during his 29 years of service with SPD. He has made his notification that his retirement will be effective as of March 31, 2014. I wish him the best in all his future endeavors.”
Sanford’s star was on the rise in 2012 as he repeatedly stood with McGinn and Diaz while the city negotiated the settlement agreement. He oversaw the department’s own “20/20” reform plan, which called for 20 reforms within 20 months.
Sanford even won praise from Bobb, who in his report described Sanford as being part of a department compliance team that has shown “admirable willingness to act with a sense of urgency and an ability to adroitly manage bureaucratic issues that could otherwise routinely thwart progress.”
But Sanford also was seen as part of the old guard and became a lightning rod for criticism over his planning for May Day protests in 2012 that erupted in violence and vandalism. During the protests, Sanford rushed into a crowd to make an arrest without protective gear, forcing other officers to divert from their duties and pull him from a hostile group.
More recently, he helped arrange a contract, finalized in November, with Kathryn Olson, who stepped down as the civilian director of the Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) last summer.
Olson told The Seattle Times she was hired under the contract to help create an accountability system to ensure that the department’s five precincts complied with the federal reforms.
Olson, while serving as OPA director, certified an internal investigation in 2012 that cleared Sanford of allegations he exerted undue influence in a traffic investigation involving his daughter and the solicitation of charitable donations from co-workers. He also was exonerated of trying to improperly influence a promotion exam for prospective sergeants.
The contract, which according to a source was signed in October by Kimerer, was launched without consulting new OPA Director Pierce Murphy, who said he was “very disappointed” when he recently learned of the contract.
Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story, which contains information from Seattle Times archives. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich.