Pugel sees SPD chief job as honor, opportunity

SEATTLE -- The next man to lead Seattle's police department -- at least for now -- understands he faces a tough job guiding the agency out of its recent turmoils.

Acting Chief Jim Pugel says he is still deciding whether to enter the running as the permanent chief.

Like outgoing Chief Diaz, Pugel has come up through the ranks and isn't sure the political winds will favor a second internal candidate in a row.

"I thought it was quite a bit of an honor, but also an opportunity," Pugel said.

Pugel is a Seattle native and an officer for more than 30 years. He played decisive roles in the hunt for accused cop-killer Chris Monfort and a crime wave last year that plagued the city.

Pugel says his appointment as chief may be temporary, but the reforms he oversees must last.

"The mayor's made it crystal clear that I'm not to be just a caretaker, just a placeholder," Pugel said. "He wants this department to continue doing all the good things we're doing and to improve the things we are not doing well."

What's not going well is documented in Department of Justice findings of a pattern of excessive force by officers, and a failure by commanders to address misconduct.

Pugel, who heads up the detective division, says officers are going to make mistakes. But key reforms are underway through a federal monitor.

"I think what I'm more concerned about is a mistake of the heart, or a mistake of the mind," Pugel said.

Whatever shortcomings, Pugel believes in his department. Whether he can set clear expectations and directions about how he wants his officers to act will make all the difference in building and maintaining community trust.

"I think that one of the most important messages that I'm going to have during my interim period is make every contact count," he said.

Chief Diaz is coaching Pugel on day-to-day responsibilities and will hand over the job the first or second week in May.

Mayor Mike McGinn wants to look nationwide for a replacement, but given that he is up for re-election this November, the real search might not start until after the November vote.