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Seattle's interim police chief acknowledges missteps, prepared to make changes

With the Seattle Police Department still under a federal consent decree, Interim Chief Adrian Diaz said he's ready to make necessary changes.

SEATTLE — There is still significant pressure to make big cuts to the Seattle Police Department.

Acknowledging there have been missteps over the last few months, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz believes he is in the best position to make reforms.

One of the areas he will focus on is how the department handles protests and avoiding the use of CS gas. Diaz said previous use of the gas "really jeopardized some of our relationships with the community."

Diaz took over as interim chief following Carmen Best's retirement at the beginning of September. In August, she announced she would retire from the job just hours after the Seattle City Council voted to cut spending to the police department.  

Diaz has already made some changes, the first being re-assigning some personnel to patrol units in an effort to improve 911 response times. He previously said the reassigned officers will largely come from community policing, traffic enforcement, and similar units rather than from those focused on violent crime, sexual assault, or domestic violence.  

The changes come as discussions at Seattle City Hall regarding cuts to the department continue. Diaz said those discussions are mostly being held between himself, the mayor's office, and the city council as they try to figure out appropriate changes to move the department forward. Right now, he said, he is not talking about cutting staff and "focused on keeping our department whole."

Diaz said demonstration management is key to getting the department into compliance with the federal consent decree.

The Seattle Police Department has remained under a federal consent decree since 2012. It's an agreement that changes need to be made after a Department of Justice investigation found the Seattle Police Department had a pattern of using excessive force, and policies and practices could result in bias against minorities. 

The City of Seattle filed a motion to remove parts of the decree in May and then withdrew that motion following protests that brought in more than 14,000 complaints regarding use of force.

Diaz said there are "very specific issues" needing to be addressed for the department to be in compliance with the decree. He notes the department has accomplished much of what it has been asked to do as far as reforms go.

Diaz believes that right now, he's the person who can move the department forward.

Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council has until next week to decide whether or not to override a veto by Mayor Jenny Durkan to go through with cuts to the police department.

Durkan vetoed Seattle City Council-approved proposals that included reducing the Seattle Police Department by as many as 100 officers through layoffs and attrition. The council proposed cuts of less than $4 million of the department’s $400 million annual budget this year. Those measures were supported by demonstrators who have marched in the city following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  

But they were strongly opposed by the mayor and Best while she was still working for Seattle. Durkan cited a lack of a plan by the council to account for what would happen to public safety by cutting dozens of officers.