Interim Seattle police chief ‘has the ability to bring a lot of folks together’
One of the Seattle Police Department’s most respected voices in the community, Harry Bailey, has returned as the SPD’s steward while the city seeks a permanent police chief
Seattle Times staff reporters
Harry C. Bailey supported Joe Mallahan in his losing bid for Seattle mayor in 2009. Bailey then went to work for the winner, Mike McGinn, when the city needed help with police reforms.
Now the former Seattle police officer who retired in 2007 as an assistant chief has been tapped by the man who defeated McGinn, Ed Murray, to serve as interim Seattle police chief.
Bailey has found himself back in uniform as the city adopts federally mandated reforms to address excessive force and biased policing and Murray begins a crucial search for a permanent police chief.
His ability to adapt to his surroundings and win the confidence of a wide array of people landed him in the job, according to people who know him.
“Harry has a lot of credibility in the community and he also has a lot of credibility internally,” said Seattle police Capt. Joe Kessler. “For what the mayor said he wants, I can’t think of a better person than Harry. Harry has the ability to bring a lot of folks together.”
Bailey, 69, declined a request for an interview for this story.
Murray said in announcing Bailey’s appointment Wednesday that he “has for 35 years been a Seattle police officer who is widely respected in law enforcement circles and among the many diverse communities that make up the City of Seattle.”
Bailey was hired by the department in 1971 among a small group of minority trainees brought up through the old Seattle Police Academy.
He worked patrol in the South Precinct, was a member of the gang unit, worked as a robbery detective and was active in the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, the union representing officers and sergeants.
When he retired to take the job as chief of security for the Seattle Sonics, he had worn an SPD badge for more than three decades and left as one of the highest-ranking African Americans in the department.
During much of that time, Bailey was one of the department’s most respected — and circumspect — liaisons with Seattle’s communities of color.
Before being promoted from captain to to assistant chief in 2001 by then-Chief Gil Kerlikowske, Bailey served as SPD’s director of community partnerships.
It has proved a natural role for Bailey, who was born in Birmingham, Ala., and who had once wanted to be a Southern Baptist preacher.
In his police job, he often was approached by community members and the command staff alike to deal with problems involving race and the department.
Discrimination has touched his own family. His wife, Mattie Bailey, was awarded more than $812,000 in 2009 by a King County Superior Court jury as one of three plaintiffs in a high-profile racial- and gender-discrimination lawsuit filed against Seattle City Light Co. and its former director, Gary Zarker, and the man he made her superviser, Bob Royer.
Even after he left the department, Bailey continued in the role as bridgemaker.
McGinn hired him under a $75,000 contract to oversee implementation of the department’s “20/20” reform plan, issued in response to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) December 2011 report that found SPD’s officers routinely use unconstitutionally excessive force, often against minorities and the mentally or chemically impaired. The DOJ also found troubling but inconclusive evidence of biased policing.
A settlement agreement reached between the Justice Department’s Civil Right’s Division and the city of Seattle in July 2012 requires the department to address the issues.
Currently, the federal judge who is overseeing the reforms is considering proposed policies to deal with biased policing, stops and detentions short of arrest that will almost certainly occur on Bailey’s watch.
Respect for Bailey is also found inside the SPD’s rank and file, earned through years on the street and his involvement with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.
Bailey served as vice president of the union, where he was drawn into one of the most controversial actions of his law-enforcement career.
Bailey backed a handful of lawsuits filed by the union against citizens in 1994, including one against a 16-year-old girl, who had filed complaints against officers to the department’s internal-investigation section. The lawsuits accused the citizens of filing frivolous complaints.
All the suits were dismissed when the Guild let them languish in court, raising the question whether they were brought to have a chilling effect on others.
In 1989, he found himself in the middle of controversy when, as secretary-treasurer of the police guild, he refused, along with other black officers at a news conference, to call for the firing of a white officer who wrote a racist letter to then-King County Council member Ron Sims. The letter said, among other thing, that blacks are genetically inferior, lazy, prone to commit crimes and unable to get along with any racial group including their own.
The black officers said they trusted then-Police Chief Patrick Fitzsimons to handle the matter. Fitzsimons suspended the officer for 30 days without pay.
As guild vice president in 1993, Bailey remained on the board when two directors quit after the union president testified before Congress that he opposed gays and lesbians in the military.
The challenge for Bailey, said one observer speaking on condition of anonymity, will be to tackle tough issues in the face of old loyalties.
Kessler, the police captain, has been a friend of Bailey’s for more than 30 years. He noted that Bailey has maintained deep roots in South Seattle and Rainier Valley, where he patrolled as an officer.
“What sets Harry apart is the fact that he really understands the community and community issues and what it takes to work,” said Kessler, who currently commands the SPD’s Southwest Precinct and is a member of the newly formed Community Policing Commission, whose members Bailey helped select.
Chris H. Bennett, of Seattle, the chairman and founder of the African-American-owned Seattle Medium Newspaper Group, praised Bailey as choice for interim chief.
“Chief Bailey has never forgot his community, never,” Bennett said. “This is a role model of a gentleman who worked his way up from the bottom to the top.
“Can you imagine going through all of the police mess he’s had to deal with? All of the racial injustice and he becomes the chief of police? That’s a hell of a story for my sons and grandsons,” Bennett said.
Kerlikowske, the former Seattle police chief who currently serves as the director of the National Office of Drug Control Policy, said Murray has made a good choice in selecting Bailey as interim chief.
“I worked closely with Chief Bailey during my many years as Seattle’s Chief of Police and saw firsthand how highly he is trusted by the community and the men and women of the Seattle Police Department,” Kerlikowske said in a statement. “A leader with a well-earned reputation of integrity and honesty, he will serve the people of Seattle well.”
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which includes information from Times archives.
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