Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz talks staffing, violent crime, crowd response and more
Adrian Diaz is now in his second full month as the permanent chief of the Seattle Police Department. He was named to the position in late September, after serving as interim chief for two years during a tumultuous time.
KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick visited Seattle Police Headquarters to talk with Diaz about his ongoing tenure and top issues for the department and the community it serves.
Listen to the interview above.
Note: This transcript is provided for reference only and may contain typos. Please confirm accuracy before quoting.
Kirsten Kendrick (narration): Chief Adrian Diaz is now in charge of a department that he's worked in for more than two decades. And one of his first challenges is filling a lot of vacancies.
Kendrick (interview): Chief, I wanted to start by talking about the need to hire more officers in the department. The staffing at Seattle Police Department is at a 30 year low. How is the recruitment process going?
Chief Adrian Diaz: While we've had less people apply for the job, we've actually seen more diversity in our hires. This year alone, over 50% of the hires have been people of color. The one thing that we really, really need is actually more people applying and really seeing this job as a service job.
Kendrick (interview): Crime is definitely a big concern among people who live in Seattle. What would you say to someone who does not feel safe in the city?
Diaz: When people have that kind of internal feeling that it is not safe. Part of that is, is because, you know, sometimes when they walk out their door, they see graffiti. They see trash. They see debris. They see sometimes people in crisis. And I'm not saying that I'm going to be able to really fully change that. What we are looking at: the mayor's office has been working on a graffiti plan and we're also addressing violent crime. Around 2019, we were around 35, 36 homicides. We're at 50 this year. And so as I look at major cities across the country, they've also experienced the same level of crime spikes that we have as well. And we're all trying to understand why. And then also, the other issue that we run into, that we're seeing that spike is domestic violence. People's anxiety and people's stress level (have) really switched over the last two years.
Kendrick (narration): The chief and I recorded our interview less than a week after the murder of well-known and well-loved Central District business owner D’Vonne Pickett, Jr. He was shot and killed in front of his mailing and shipping business, The Postman, in October. The suspect arrested in that case is also believed to be responsible for other shootings in the city. I asked the chief what he is doing to address gun violence and, after first stressing that it needs the community to be involved in finding a solution, he said police are analyzing data on hotspots, areas where violent crimes are happening or have increased. Then, he says there are ways to prevent these crimes, including looking at extreme risk protection orders.
Diaz: So, how are we getting guns out of the hands of people that should not be ... they're not in a good place or mental state to actually be having guns. And so, you know, they might have a storage of guns. We want to make sure that people that we can get those guns. Sometimes it's domestic violence. Sometimes it's related to, you know, people in behavioral crisis. So whatever we need to be able to do to really try to make sure that we prevent guns coming in the wrong hands. We advocate for safe storage. And I've actually testified at the state level for, you know, good responsible gun legislation. And so that's where that prevention component is. Then we look at environment. So how do we actually make the environment more welcoming? So people are actually utilizing that space. So good lighting, cutting back brush, making sure that, you know, that people feel safe to walk down the street. And then the last part is enforcement. And so we actually are testing every single casing that we recover and every gun that we recovered to see if it's actually linked to other guns. But we actually have had around about 38% as well in guns that have been used in four cases or more. So those are those are the ones you really want to recover, because we know that that person is using it in multiple cases. And it's not just in our city. They're using it in Renton and Tukwila and Southcenter or Auburn or Kent. And we've actually had as far as even in Portland. We've lost 485 officers over the last couple of years. But I'm actually almost a 30 gun short of the recovery in the same amount of guns that I had when I had full staffing. But that just tells you the the amount of guns ... that are actually out there.
Kendrick (narration): Diaz became interim chief of the Seattle Police Department in September of 2020 following a summer of racial justice protests. The latest report on the city and police department's response to those protests cited, among other things, a lack of leadership. The Office of Police Accountability received 19,000 complaints about officers during the protests. The chief says when he took over, he created a community response group, fired some officers and changed the way the department manages crowds.
Diaz: So we haven't used a crowd control tool in two years. And that, right now already, it should show to the community just how I looked at and changing the dynamics of what we were going to do and how we responding situations. Over the course of the last couple of years, I've made close to almost two dozen terminations. And it's making sure that we honor that the badge means something to the community and that is building community trust.
Kendrick (narration): On the subject of building trust. I asked the chief about the federal consent decree that the department has been working under for a decade, following findings of excessive force and biased policing.
Diaz: As we actually looked at this year, we've actually been able to get ourselves back into compliance with the consent decree. I'm hoping that we're able to move the department out of the consent decree and work with the Inspector General and our accountability partners from OPA, Office of Police Accountability, as well as the Community Police Commission, where we can find ourselves in a place where, you know, we're very responsive to our accountability partners' needs and how we actually address the issues that are going on in the city.
Kendrick (interview): You came up through the ranks in the department here and served as interim chief in a very tumultuous time. What made you want to go for the job permanently?
Diaz: Yeah. So, you know, for me, I had this one opportunity to lead and I feel like I have a skill set that really helps kind of bring people together. I've already started launching a variety of initiatives for the department. We launched Seattle Police Before The Badge (https://www.seattle.gov/police/community-policing/before-the-badge). It is a 45 day program prior to a person becoming an officer, actually, coming into the academy. When you look at international recruits, London or, you know, Malta or New Zealand, many of their academies are one year, two, three years long. And and they don't give them a gun. And in our police ... in American policing, we spend four and a half to five months and we give them a gun hoping that we're going to have better outcomes. And so for me, it was spending more time really engaging community at the front end to really show that this is something that we value and that we really want to build those relationships to be, and SPD Before The Badge does that. And it focuses on social, emotional learning, brain development. It's engaging in listening sessions with communities that have felt trauma by a police department. And so that was something that that I wanted to launch right off, (at) the very beginning. You know, for me, it's really about, how do we actually work in a level community? And I feel like I have that skill set to really help bridge relationships and help really feel like the community has that connection with the police department.
Kendrick (interview): What will success as chief look like for you?
Diaz: When somebody comes in and says, Hey, you know, these officers did a fantastic job. They treated me with respect. They listened to me. They gave me, you know, that extra care. That is when I feel like that. That's my level of success. It ain't going to be some, you know, survey that's going to tell me, you know, people really like you or anything like that. But it's really where people on the ground feel like that we have changed the way we connected with people. Officers are still going out and doing police work and they're also making sure that that that they're being mindful of how their conduct is. And sometimes we're going to have we're going to have a situation because we hire from the human race that everything is not going to be perfect. But that's where the accountability piece comes into measure and that's where you end up addressing those issues.
This interview was produced by Vivian McCall.