Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz optimistic about drop in violent crime
Despite state-wide violent crime trends and a tragic seven-day stretch of homicides throughout Washington last month, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz believes his jurisdiction — the 142 square miles that incorporate the metropolis — is becoming a safer place for its residents.
“I’ve been really focused on addressing violent crime since I came into the job, so a lot of the work that we did in Quarter 4 last year, we’ve actually started to see a drop in violent crime,” Diaz told MyNorthwest. “Homicides have stayed pretty consistent and that is our growing concern. This month, just this month alone, we’ve actually seen a 30% drop in violent crime. However, our homicides are still staying steady. This is the work that we are still committed to staying focused on.”
Diaz was the interim police chief for two years prior to his formal acceptance of the position, replacing former Police Chief Carmen Best in Aug. 2020, just a few months into the pandemic — a significant culprit in the nationwide increases of violent crime.
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In Seattle, murder rates rose 47% from 2019 to 2020 and have maintained that level since according to The Seattle Times. Last summer, Seattle’s violent crime finally eclipsed a 25-year high.
Now, Diaz’s optimism might finally be settling in. Despite nagging issues within the department, December 2022 turned over a new leaf. 2022’s final month had the fewest violent crimes reported since March 2020, as violent crimes dropped 18% over the last three months of 2022 in comparison to 2021, according to Seattle police records.
Out of the six reported homicides Seattle witnessed last month, four were related to homeless, according to Diaz.
“Our focus has been the crime associated with these encampments,” Diaz said, responding to the department’s handling of Seattle’s homeless situation. “Many service providers have expressed concerns when they go and enter into these encampments, so we have been supporting a lot of the social services by having officers provide some level of security. We’re trying to address the very specific encampments that are experiencing violence.”
This practice, alongside the many other public service tasks Seattle police officers are responsible for, has led to the overall exhaustion and ensuing depleted morale within the thinning department.
The state of the police department was well documented in police officer exit interviews from last year, acquired exclusively by MyNorthwest, including one detective who wrote:
“Morale was just so low. It was hard to just get into the car to go to work. I felt that the department did not fight hard enough to defend officers after the riots. And now department personnel is depleted, and officer detectives are paying for that.”
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While acknowledging that morale still needs improvement, Diaz disagreed with some of the complaints found in the exit interviews, believing that the department is on a progressive incline.
“People looked just in a somber mood in 2020. I can see the change in 2021, and now, in , people are joking, they’re at the special events, they’re laughing, they’re having a good time. They’re starting to feel like they feel supported,” Diaz said. “I mean, I’ve done roll calls, and officers are saying, ‘God, about a year ago, I was getting 12 middle fingers a day, and now I’m not getting any, Chief.’ I think that’s the kind of change they’re seeing.
“And that’s a good thing,” Diaz continued. “But I want to tell you that morale is still low.”
With The Seattle Police Department (SPD) falling below 1,000 officers for the first time in nearly 30 years, Diaz, alongside Mayor Bruce Harrell, has made the “reasonable goal” to hire 125 officers every single year over the next five years.
“We hope that we lose less officers than we hire and that we’re able to really make an improvement in the amount of and retention of officers,” Diaz said. “If that’s the case, it’ll take us probably about anywhere from four to six years for us to get up to an adequate staffing level where there’s a relief coming in, and that we’re able to start filling some of the needed positions throughout the department.”
A national survey from June 2021 found that departments around the country, on average, were filling 93% of their available staff, according to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), leaving questions for police departments across the country on how to properly recruit and retain more officers.
Among the obtained exit interviews for the SPD, approximately 60% were for retirements.
“I don’t think the interest in being a police officer is really the same right now,” Diaz said. “I think we’ve seen, in the policing profession across this country, everyone has felt that there are less candidates applying for police jobs.”
Washington state’s streak with violent crime continued through 2023, as the state witnessed north of 20 fatalities in January after averaging 31.5 murders per month last year, according to the Twitter account Washington State Homicide.