By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly
Chief Jim Pugel took over the reigns of a police department in transition when he was appointed interim police chief two months ago. How does he plan to address the APA recruitment and promotion problem and other issues currently affecting the police department? We sat down with him to find out.
NWAW: Apart from your standard day-to-day police chief duties, what will you spend the most time and effort on?
Pugel: I gave my four corner posts on my first day in office.
Excellence, everything we do we’ll try our best.
Humility, knowing that we’re going to make mistakes. That’s what police work is about: managing problems. … We have to learn from that and in order to learn you have to have humility.
We have to have integrity. Our words are going to have to match our actions and our actions are going to have to match our words. End of story.
And the last for me is harm reduction. So often in the past, police work has been if you break the law you go to jail and it’s the end of our worry. … Police work has to start embracing harm reduction instead of just black-and-white “You broke the law, you’re going to jail, let someone else help you with it.” We cannot do things all by ourselves. We have to do them together or the community will suffer.
NWAW: What issues do you think will be the most important for the Seattle Police Department to address in the near future?
Pugel: Prevent crime and, when crime happens, quickly address it. That’s number one. Number two, reach compliance and sustain compliance once we reach that, and that involves working closely with the Community Police Commission and working closely with the monitoring team.
NWAW: About the Community Police Commission, how closely are you going to be working with them?
Pugel: On my first week designated as interim chief, Lisa [Daugaard] and Diane [Narasaki] invited me down to a meeting, so I was able to speak on that day, and I’ve attended most recently about two weeks ago. I am going to try to attend as often as possible.
Knowing some of the people I’ve known a long time on the commission and reading about or knowing of some of the others, I believe they’re going to have a lot of good advice that is Seattle specific. Seattle — and I say this in the good way — is a weird town. No one in the United States understands Seattle, and it’s good that they’re here and it’s good that they’re getting involved.
NWAW: The APA community is the most underrepresented ethnic community on the SPD staff. What do you think the SPD can do to alleviate this and get more people interested?
Pugel: There are several different angles. One is we get to know the leaders in the community and the unofficial leaders in the community. If they get to know us, and they see that we’re a good organization, that we’re respectful, that we can be trusted, then when someone says ‘dad, mom, uncle, aunt, coach, I’m thinking about being a police officer’ … when leaders, parents, unofficial leaders, coaches, drill team instructors, when they say yes or no, it has a big influence on a child.
We also have to model our tremendous API employees, both civilian and sworn. It’d be great if they became sworn cops with guns, but I’m very satisfied if they decide to become a dispatcher, or an API who works in the CSI department who goes out and collects fingerprints from crime scenes. That’s just as important. We need to showcase those people.
Every year, we’ve gotten a little bit more effective in immersing ourselves into the community and showing the good that we are doing. …
Last, I would say we get involved with schools. One thing I do, these last two years I’ve tutored ELL students in the Rainier Beach. To me, damn, I’ve got six kids around me, I’m in uniform, I’m not arresting mom, I’m not writing a ticket to grandma, I’m not telling their brother to turn down the music, I’m helping them read. … That blows me away. If we could do more of that … it’s very rewarding for me to do that, but it’s very selfish for me to do that as a professional because I do want them to see police in a very positive light. You can’t start recruiting people when they’re 20. We can’t just go to a community meeting and say ‘be a cop.’ … We have to be immersed officials and unofficially in the community.
NWAW: Regarding the search for a permanent chief, would you be interested?
Pugel: Yes. Yes I am. Initially, it was so new to me several weeks ago, at first I didn’t want to do it. I’ve seen the grief you go through. You put yourself out there, and anyone can call you anything they want.
But, at the same time, I realized how much I love this city. I was born here. My parents have been in the same house in the Rainier Valley since 1953. I’ve many brothers and sisters who are still in the Seattle area, and we all love this city. I hope I live a long, long time, but I’m going to die in this city. And when I’m an old-timer, I want a good police department so I’m safe when I’m in my 90s.
NWAW: Several Asian community leaders are upset because they say Asian American officers have been passed over for promotions. How would you address this?
Pugel: There are different rules that apply to different lists of people for promotion. If you’re a sergeant, someone lower on the list can only be promoted over you if there are documented performance issues. It’s almost impossible to not promote a person in order unless there’s been documented serious misbehavior. For lieutenants and captains, the police chief picks from the top five of the list ordered by civil service test score and seniority.
NWAW: What philosophy will you use when you’re picking people to promote from these lists?
Pugel: First of all, I have to go by state law, which says I can’t promote based on race or discrimination. For officers on the lieutenant and captain lists, I have more discretion, but it would only be based on performance. Let me be clear — and I’ve told this to everybody — that when I leave this job, whether that’s in a year or in 20 years, I want the department to accurately reflect the community we serve in race and culture. That’s the only way we can have legitimacy in the community. (end)
Charles Lam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.