Former Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, who became interim director of King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention in April, will permanently oversee the county’s jails.

Former Seattle Police Chief  John Diaz will oversee King County’s Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention. (Courtesy of King County)
Former Seattle Police Chief John Diaz will oversee King County’s Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention. (Courtesy of King County)

County Executive Dow Constantine announced the hire Wednesday, praising the “leadership, strategic thinking, and stability” Diaz brought to the department, which faces long-standing issues including rising overtime hours among corrections officers.

The county had been unsuccessful in finding a new director since former director William Hayes retired in October. Diaz was hired as interim director as the county began its third national search, although no serious candidates came out of that search, Constantine’s spokesman Alex Fryer said in an email.

Diaz, who was police chief from 2010 to 2013, said he knows he’s taking on a challenge. He was tasked by Constantine in April with reducing the county’s use of solitary confinement and resolving labor and staffing concerns. Soon, he’ll oversee the move into the county’s controversial new juvenile detention center, as he also collaborates on the county’s Road Map to Zero Youth Detention project.

“I like being a problem solver,” Diaz said. “The culture is the same as the one I spent 37 years in in policing. There may not be awards coming your way for doing the job but it’s incredibly necessary.”

Since Diaz arrived at the department, he said it’s made some progress on staffing, filling about 30 of 50 empty positions within the adult detention division from the beginning of this year. He said a new contract with the King County Corrections Guild that recently came out of arbitration includes factors to reduce overtime, including a 72-hour notice for vacation and capped comp time.

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Diaz began his career with the Seattle Police Department as a patrol officer in 1980. Before becoming chief, he served as deputy chief, managing 1,900 employees and a $250 million budget, according to the executive’s statement. At different points in his time with the department, Diaz represented the department in labor negotiations.

Diaz, who is Latino, was named interim chief in 2009 before being sworn in August 2010, becoming the first person of color to lead the department. Known as a soft-spoken leader, Diaz took the reins at a time of intense public scrutiny after videos of officers confronting people of color went viral. He led the department through a Department of Justice investigation before retiring in 2013.

The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention’s approximately 1,000 employees staff the King County Jail, Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, juvenile jail and community corrections, according to the department.