Less than a week after a new interim chief took the helm at the Seattle Police Department, there’s a proposal in the city council aimed at shaking up the department's top ranks by changing the rules governing how top commanders are chosen.
When Norm Stamper was hired from San Diego to lead SPD in 1994, he wanted to bring along his own deputy chief, but he was told he couldn't. His successors -- Gil Kerlikowske and John Diaz -- were also told to hire their top brass from within.
It’s not just department practice; it’s city law. A 1978 ordinance that set up a Public Safety Civil Service Commission as a separate entity from the regular Civil Service Commission included a requirement that the Seattle Police Chief choose every one of his or her top commanders from the existing pool of captains and lieutenants.
Some Seattle City Council members say it’s time to throw open the gates.
“I think what we realize at the council is it's time for a change in our police department, and we want that change from top to the bottom, and we want to start with the chief of police and the top commanders of the department,” said Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess.
Burgess and Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee, have introduced legislation to repeal the provision restricting the top brass to insiders. It was discussed at the Seattle City Council’s Monday morning briefing, just hours before a search committee was scheduled to convene to start the process of deciding what the city should look for in a new chief.
Harrell called the old hiring policy “archaic” and said that if Seattle hopes to attract the best and brightest candidates for the chief’s job, the city needs to make it clear he or she can bring along their best people.
“We’ve heard that repeatedly--that some chiefs would like to bring one two or maybe three people in that they have a relationship with,” Harrell said.
Harrell said a survey of seven other West Coast police departments found only two --Seattle and San Jose – that limit command staff promotions to insiders.
The union representing SPD’s 61 captains and lieutenants said it would support opening up one command position to an outsider--but not all six.
"If you bring in six complete outsiders and an outside chief who know nothing about Seattle politics, Seattle culture, the history of the police department, the history of the City of Seattle, I mean that could kind of stall things as far as what they want to do. Plus, who are these people?” said Eric Sano, president of the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA).
Both the SPMA and the Seattle Police Officers Guild, which represents rank-and-file officers, sent letters to the city demanding that any changes in promotion policies be subject to collective bargaining
Harrell said he expects to get the new ordinance passed out of the Public Safety Committee this week and believes he has enough votes to get it passed by the full council.
There have been several major changes among SPD leadership and more are expected. On Monday, Assistant Chief Mike Sanford, who led the department’s 20/20 Reform Plan, abruptly announced his retirement, effective March 31. Late last year, Deputy Chief Nick Metz was recently demoted to the rank of captain by Interim Chief Jim Pugel, who was himself replaced last week by Harry Bailey, a former SPD Deputy Chief. Bailey came out of retirement to run the police department while the search for a permanent chief is underway. Last November, Assistant Chief Dick Reed took a voluntary demotion to captain.