News, People

SPD’s South Precinct Gets 7th New Leader in 5 Years


By Amber Campbell

SOUTHEAST SEATTLE — The game of musical chairs continues at SPD’s South Precinct where Captain John Hayes, the sixth precinct commander in five years, is out after just six months.

According to SPD, Hayes is headed to the Compliance Bureau, while South Precinct Operations Lieutenant Steve Strand will fill-in as acting captain of the South Precinct. There has been no word of a permanent, long-term replacement.

Last fall, Captain Hayes replaced Captain Carmen Best after her brief, two-month stay on the job.

Prior to that, Captain Steve Paulsen led the precinct for just 10 months before being promoted to oversee Violent Crimes.

“I was expecting to stay for quite a bit longer,” wrote Paulsen in 2013. “This move was completely unexpected for me.”

Before that, Captain Mike Nolan ran the precinct for two years before being bumped back to Traffic where he’d been prior to running the precinct.

At that time, the RVP contacted SPD by telephone and email to learn more about the reasons for the transfer that came less than one year after SPD asked for the public’s help in fighting a “sharp rise in violent crime,” but we never received a response.

Prior to Captain Nolan’s tenure, Captain Dave Emerick spent about a year at the South Precinct after replacing Captain Les Liggins, who had taken over for Captain Tom Byers in 2006.

The chronic instability in leadership at the South Precinct, which has seen almost daily drive-by shootings for the last two weeks, seems counter-intuitive, but Chief Harry Bailey says change is good.

“Change is normal in any organization. I have placed my commanders in these new assignments because this is the best fit for my department and the community which we serve,” he said.

Southeast Seattle resident Jesse Foster disagrees.

“Bailey can say that change is normal, and the residents here can say that gunshots are normal, robberies are normal, and feeling like we aren’t treated the same as other parts of Seattle is normal,” he said.

“But nine shootings in nine days, a homicide victim being pushed through the streets in a grocery cart, and bullets flying across a playground full of kids — if this happened in Magnolia or Ballard, the response from the city would be different, it would be portrayed as a crisis that demanded immediate attention and resources. Instead, here in the hub of diversity for the entire Northwest, we lose another police captain.”

Foster goes on to question the wisdom of removing the South Precinct captain without a permanent replacement.

“The city’s response to this outrageous and abhorrent violence that has kids taking cover from gunfire is to remove the sixth captain in seven years without having a replacement. If that doesn’t say ‘we don’t care about your part of town,’ I don’t  know what does.”

Residents can meet the new acting captain Tuesday night at a community meeting about the recent increase in south-end violence.

Recent South Precinct Commanders:

On Wed., May 7, the Seattle City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology held a special meeting at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center to discuss a recent increase in Rainier Valley street crime, including a disturbing trend of criminals targeting the elderly. Lt. Strand was there. Then captain John Hayes was not.

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4 Comments on "SPD’s South Precinct Gets 7th New Leader in 5 Years"

Question Mark
1 year 6 months ago

Bailey’s stated concern for the South Seattle community — or wait, was he even referring to South Seattle in his “best fit for … the community” remark? — would be much more convincing if he were to be more transparent about the department’s plans to address street violence in South Seattle.

However, transparency is not Bailey’s thing, and he has enjoyed both active and tacit support in this from Mayor Murray.

Over the weekend, there was a prime example of the differential in response to crime reports between other areas of the city and South Seattle. The response to reports of an attempted burglary brought SWAT-style response, complete with assault rifles at the ready, in downtown Seattle near the waterfront.

I guess property owners in some parts of Seattle are being assured that SPD “has their backs.”

Daphne Schneider
1 year 6 months ago

Othello Park Alliance is hosting a community meeting about the recent neighborhood violence tonight, Tuesday, May 27, 6:00 pm, NewHolly Gathering Hall. Acting South Precinct Captain Steve Strand and others will be speaking. Please join us.

1 year 6 months ago

I find SPD Command Staff’s lack of commitment to longevity of leadership for the South Precinct deplorable.

That said, Lt. Steve Strand knows this precinct. He has gone above and beyond to reach out to the community and understand our concerns.

He is a seasoned, experienced commander who gives his officers clear expectations but, from what I have heard, does not micro-manage them.

Provided SPD’s command staff has Lt. Strand’s back, so he can have his officer’s backs, by fairly calling balls and strikes, so to speak, when there are complaints from bad guys trying to work the system, all will be well with this command arrangement.

Provided Lt. Strand has the community’s backs when their are community complaints about police conduct, and he again approaches the issues fairly, all will be well.

It is a difficult tight rope any South Precinct commander must walk. Let’s give him our support.

That does not preclude our letting Bailey, Murray, and others hearing our clear, but respectful, displeasure at treating the command positions at the S. Precinct as something that makes musical chairs, tame by comparison.

This is not a game, but a public safety crisis in which officers must get the bad guys out of our midst while respecting everyone’s dignity and civil rights. The public and those officers deserve continuity and a steady hand at the South Precinct. Lt. Strand fits the bill if headquarters will leave him there and support him and the men and women who protect us.