Chief Diaz: “Department Is Not Broken”

Hours after the Department of Justice unleashed a blistering report on the use of excessive force within the Seattle Police Department, Chief John Diaz, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer, and Office of Professional Accountability Director Kathryn Olson met with reporters at police headquarters to defend the department.

“This department is not broken,” Diaz said firmly, responding to comments made by DOJ officials at a press conference this morning on the 11-month investigation into “patterns” of officer misconduct at SPD.

The department’s top brass seemed a bit blindsided by the results of the DOJ’s probe and SPD is still reviewing the full DOJ report, which they only received this morning. However, Deputy Chief Kimerer told PubliCola the department “initially disagree[s] with the conclusion” of the probe and framed the Justice Department’s findings as “allegations.”

Diaz and Kimerer said they’re still waiting for answers from the DOJ as to how they came up with the results of their probe. For instance, Kimerer cited the DOJ’s claim that 44 officers of the department’s more than 1,300 officers are responsible 30 percent of excessive force complaints. “How does that constitute and pattern and a practice?” Kimerer asked.

Kimerer also addressed the fact that the 600 annual use of force incidents analyzed by the DOJ only account for a small portion of officer contacts. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, we don’t use force,” Kimerer said.

In addition to its claims about use of force in the department and concerns about biased policing, the DOJ also assailed the police department’s internal investigation unit—the Office of Professional Accountability—in its report, rapping the OPA for mishandling investigations of complaints, and frequently giving officers a lighter punishment for a violation to avoid stigmatizing them.

Diaz and OPA Director Olson both contend the department has already been working to make improvements in SPD’s oversight system, creating a use of force review board and a unit to handle SPD policymaking.

“If there were a 20 percent misuse of force, that would’ve come out through the OPA process,” Olson said. “We have a good review process. We’ve made it better,” Diaz added.

Despite the DOJ’s claim that problems at SPD come from the top down, Mayor Mike McGinn told PublICola in an interview Friday afternoon that he’s “still committed” to keeping Diaz as his police chief. “I chose Chief Diaz because he’s committed to reform,” McGinn said.

Even with support from the mayor, Chief Diaz is now facing a possible “consent decree” from the DOJ—a series of forced changes to the department’s structure and policies, which would come under threat of legal action. The DOJ has previously used consent decrees to force changes in infamously corrupt departments in New Orleans and Los Angeles. Diaz said the department would move forward with changes “whether we have a consent decree or not.”

Asked how it feels to be the chief of the department which can now be mentioned in the same breath as notorious police agencies like the LAPD and NOPD, Diaz was candid.

“I find it to be disturbing,” he said.