Seattle Police Department Chief Adrian Diaz out amid controversy

After his four years in the position, the shakeup follows accusations of discrimination, female officers suing for sexual harassment and more complaints.

the mayor of seattle stands next to the chief of police

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz stands with Mayor Bruce Harrell at a press conference announcing his nomination for the job Sept. 20, 2022. (Amanda Snyder/Cascade PBS)

Adrian Diaz is out as Seattle’s Chief of Police.

The departure comes amid increasing controversy about discrimination and retaliation on the force, a lawsuit and external investigation into sexism claims, and struggles to rebuild a diminished department.

Mayor Bruce Harrell announced at a press conference Wednesday that Diaz would be stepping down as chief to work on special projects. The mayor said he is appointing former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr as interim chief. 

Rahr was also executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission and a member of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Harrell said Rahr has indicated she will not be a candidate for the permanent police chief job. 

Harrell appointed Diaz to lead the Seattle Police Department in September 2022. He had already served as SPD’s interim chief for two years following Carmen Best’s resignation in 2020. Diaz rose through the ranks during a nearly 30-year career at SPD.

Harrell could not provide details of what his special-projects role will entail, what his title will be or the salary it will pay. 

The mayor praised the outgoing police chief for his service to the department. 

“I would be the first to say his integrity in my mind is beyond reproach,” said Harrell. “[Diaz] is a friend and I want to thank him for his service.” 

In his own remarks, Diaz tallied what he sees as his accomplishments, including launching the Beyond the Badge community policing initiative, helping move the department toward compliance with the federal consent decree, helping start the CARE alternative response program, and more. 

Breaking into tears, Diaz said, “I’ve accomplished so much in four years as chief, and there’s more work to be done. I’ll pass that challenge along to my [successor] and I’ll continue to support the city as I transition to this new role.”

Though the mayor was laudatory, Diaz’s time as chief has been plagued by controversy. Harrell said there was no one incident that led to him asking Diaz to step down. He expressed a concern that the ongoing investigations would be a distraction for the department and for the chief. Harrell also said he wanted to ensure no member of SPD’s staff would fear retaliation for voicing their concerns. 

Earlier this month, an SPD captain sued the department alleging racial discrimination and retaliation.   

In April, four female officers sued the department alleging sexual discrimination and harassment by Diaz and Sgt. John O’Neil, one of Diaz’s top advisors. In response, Harrell hired an external investigator to examine the claims.

The harassment lawsuit follows a February report, commissioned by SPD as part of an effort to hire and retain more female officers, that depicted the department as a “good old boys club” with widespread reports of sexual harassment and discrimination, and that women were often passed over for promotion.

In January, Deanna Nollette, a nearly 30-year veteran of the force and former assistant chief, sued Diaz, alleging a history of misogyny. She later alleged that Diaz retaliated against her for the lawsuit by moving her to the night shift.

Last year, Det. Denise “Cookie” Bouldin sued the city, alleging racial and gender discrimination at SPD. The year prior, the city opened the new Detective Cookie Chess Park to honor her for her years of leading a youth chess club.

A trio of longtime community advocates, including Rev. Harriett Walden of Mothers for Police Accountability, recently held a press conference to publicly defend Diaz against the accusations and lawsuits, saying he could not defend himself.

In a May interview with Cascade PBS, Harrell celebrated Diaz for showing “remarkable leadership in how he has disciplined officers” who have been accused of misconduct.

In addition to the recent string of controversies, Diaz led a department struggling to rebuild its ranks. SPD has experienced a years-long wave of officer departures that has outpaced its ability to hire.

The department currently has about 1,000 deployable officers, down from a 2019 high of 1,400. Harrell and many of the newly elected Seattle City Councilmembers have made police hiring a centerpiece of their time in office.

The officer exodus began before Diaz became interim chief, and is far from unique to Seattle. But he has overseen several initiatives to bolster hiring that have been largely unsuccessful.

In 2022, the City Council approved new hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for experienced police officers joining SPD. The city also dedicated more money for marketing and outreach to potential hires.

On May 14, the Council ratified a new contract for the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild providing a 23% bump in retroactive and ongoing pay that will make starting SPD salaries the highest in the region. Part of the rationale for the pay increase was to make Seattle more appealing to potential applicants.

Rahr said her first action when she takes over as interim chief beginning Thursday will be to listen to any and all members of the department to help her understand what needs to change to improve the culture. 

“I want to hear from the men and women of the Seattle Police Department what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing, what you need,” said Rahr on Wednesday. “I need you to be brutally honest with me so I can understand.” 

Rahr said she wants to focus on recruitment in her time as interim chief and make SPD the most attractive department in the country for women to work in. One step in accomplishing that: allowing more flexible scheduling to help parents balance work and family. 

During last year’s legislative session, Rahr worked with state Sen. John Lovick to pass a law allowing flexible police schedules

Harrell said the search for a permanent police chief will begin next week, and that former Seattle police chief Kathleen O’Toole will assist in recruiting candidates. They hope to have a new chief in place in four to six months. 

This article has been updated with quotes and context from Wednesday’s press conference. 

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