Interim Chief Adrian Diaz will need to quell rising violence in Seattle, restore staffing in the Seattle Police Department and reform the internal culture of the department where he’s worked for decades and led for the last two years, in order to fulfill the promises that landed him the permanent police chief role.
Mayor Bruce Harrell named Diaz as his pick for permanent chief on Tuesday, signaling his approval with the current leadership and faith in Diaz to meet those goals.
Harrell announced his intent to appoint Diaz, who has served in the role as an interim since 2020, to continue to lead the department, noting that he was “thrilled” to continue working with Diaz.
While Harrell said the three finalists named earlier this month were all well qualified and capable of leading the Seattle Police Department, Diaz’s “intangible” qualities, like the “chemistry” between them, are what landed him the job.
He reflected on walking down the stairs outside City Hall with Diaz a couple days ago and meeting the young daughter of Mohamed Kediye, a 48-year-old father of six who was fatally shot Sept. 11 near the Amazon Spheres.
“It’s what I call chemistry, and it’s something you can’t teach and you can’t fake and it’s right here,” Harrell said, touching his chest. “I think Chief Diaz has that right here. He’s a person I’ve known since he was a sergeant working in the community, a person who will make bold decisions — unpopular decisions — but the right thing to do. A person I know who when he looked at this little Somali daughter’s face, I know it hit him as hard as it hit me, that our job is to protect her father.”
Harrell has been a vocal supporter of Diaz since taking office in January and openly encouraged Diaz to apply for the permanent role this spring, though the city’s charter required the mayor conduct a more open search for the position.
The mayor’s office hired a headhunting firm for $75,000 to round up applicants. Of those 15 candidates, a selection committee appointed by the mayor identified three finalists earlier this month: Diaz, SPD Assistant Chief Eric Greening and Tucson, Arizona, Police Assistant Chief Kevin Hall.
During the news conference Tuesday, Diaz said as chief he would prioritize addressing violent crimes, ending an SPD staff shortage and improving the culture within the department.
“There’s no question the past two years have been difficult. Tears in the social fabric so necessary to support a healthy society have ripped wide open and so many of the resources available pre-pandemic have been reduced,” Diaz said. “Staffing challenges amidst rising calls for service puts enormous strain on our officers, making it critical that we invest in resources to keep our officers healthy and safe. At the same time, violent crime is at a 25-year high and disproportionately felt in communities of color. Therefore, we cannot be passive. Our city requires action on crime, on gun violence, on perceived and real issues of safety.”
“I embrace the future of this department because I know the character of this department and I know the demonstrated commitment of the SPD members who have stood by our department in our toughest moments, to ensure we come back wiser, stronger and dedicated to our mission. Let’s get back to work,” he added.
Diaz, 47, joined the SPD in 1997, was promoted to assistant police chief in 2017 and became deputy police chief in July 2020. He was named interim chief that August after former Police Chief Carmen Best suddenly announced she was retiring in response to the Seattle City Council’s plan to lay off 100 police officers and cut the salaries of command staff.
Born in Santa Ana, California, Diaz grew up in Anaheim before his family moved in with his grandmother on Mercer Island before his junior year of high school. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Central Washington University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington, according to SPD.
Married with three children, Diaz is a former wrestling coach at Mercer Island and Chief Sealth high schools and spent his earlier years in the police department doing youth and community outreach work. He began his career in patrol and was assigned to a bike unit before working as an undercover officer with the Anti-Crime Team. Later, he joined the Investigations Bureau and as an assistant chief, Diaz was in charge of the department’s Collaborative Policing Bureau.
Not including interim chiefs, Diaz is the seventh person to be named the city’s top cop in 43 years and is the third chief in that time to rise through the Seattle ranks.
Harrell and Diaz have worked in apparent lockstep this year to address high-crime neighborhoods concentrated in and around downtown through hot-spot policing and committing to hiring more staff through a series of recruitment strategies, including hiring bonuses of up to $30,000.
Members of the Downtown Seattle Association and Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, both of which represent the interests of Seattle businesses and have been outwardly supportive of Harrell’s approach to public safety downtown, also praised Diaz’s appointment.
“Mayor Bruce Harrell and the Chief Adrian Diaz know well, because we have been very vocal about what the business community wants to see in terms public safety: an all-of-the-above approach that includes the right amount of funding and the right number of officers, reforms in the department, and a diversification of response,” Chamber President and CEO Rachel Smith, who was appointed to the search committee by Harrell, said Tuesday by email.
“We have confidence in this mayor, and in a chief who, by this action today is afforded validation and the authority to galvanize the full resources of the department to lead and deliver on our public safety priorities.”
The pair have shared little on how they will navigate reform within the department, which has been under a federal consent decree for a decade due to sustained issues of force and bias within the department.
In a public forum last week, the three candidates fielded questions about alternative responses, the culture within the department and violence in the city.
While he indicated support for increased policing alternatives and reform within the department, Diaz focused his answers on his previous experience, rather than specific new ideas.
The Seattle Police Officers Guild said Tuesday that the union “fully supports” Diaz as chief, noting that his internal knowledge of the department makes him a favorite among officers.
“We feel our members will be able to get a fair collective bargaining contract with Chief Diaz,” SPOG President Mike Solan said Tuesday.
Like other city department heads, Diaz’s appointment will have to be voted on and confirmed by the City Council. The mayor will set the new chief’s salary and council members will be asked to approve it. Diaz was paid $265,017 in 2021.