Meet SPDs new tech boss, hired away from Amazon, originally from Scotland: Gregory Russell.
Gregory Russell was hired away from Amazon. Now, after five months as the Seattle Police Department's technology chief, he's leaving. SPD

I received a tip on Wednesday that Greg Russell, the former top Amazon executive who joined the SPD in March, is resigning. Today, the department confirmed that today is Russell's last day.

Russell had been heralded as an experienced tech expert, change-maker, and unique asset at the department, which is in the midst of a Department of Justice-required reform process. In April, he talked about ambitious plans to equip officers with tablet devices; pre-emptively disclose and auto-redact more police data, including body camera footage; and design new systems to track problematic officers. He said he was particularly impressed by Chief O'Toole's commitment to technology innovation.

The reasons for Russell's departure, just over five months later, vary depending on who you ask.

Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers said Russell decided not to pass up a higher-paying, "tremendous" opportunity to work for a Fortune 500 company. But a source who asked not be identified said the city "took away his workforce."

Wagers said the department will announce a successor to Russell next week, and that this person's hiring is already in the works. The department's top brass had hoped that Russell would stay for at least one or two years, Wagers said. "Things happen."

"We're making it clear that we're continuing to drive hard in terms of change," he added, "so we don't have too much slippage. We have to have the technology behind the scenes to institutionalize reform."

One of Russell's achievements during his short tenure was to save the department $5 million by bringing a critical perspective to the initial price offered by a private contractor to build a data analytics platform, according to Wagers. Now, the platform will cost about $7 million instead of $12 million.

Russell himself did not respond to a request for comment, and Wagers said Russell wouldn't speak publicly. "He's going back to being anonymous."

In an interview shortly after the job began, Russell told me that there was "quite a bit more overhead" at the SPD than at Amazon. "It's the government, right, so things move quite a bit slower. I'm going to have to deal with that... I like to go really fast on things. I'm not sure how fast I can go here."

A city source who asked not to be identified said Russell left because the information technology units across city departments are being consolidated at the direction of the Department of Information Technology and the mayor's office.

"Basically, they took away his workforce," the source said. "What really fucks things up in the city is this arcane policy stuff where everyone's building their own fiefdom and doing it for themselves instead of trying to get the best results... Greg comes in and has all these great ideas. Everywhere he goes there's a wall put up."

The source said consolidating the IT units looks like a worthwhile "efficiency" on paper, but isn't working out in practice because different units in different departments have specialized knowledge.

Wagers told me Russell was allowed to keep the software developers he really needed—about half of his unit. "I can't speak for Greg," he said, "but he did not indicate that that's what drove him out the door... I can't think of where we have not been able to help him, or we ran into a roadblock that we couldn't overcome."

Mayoral spokesperson Viet Shelton declined to comment, except to say that he'd only heard Russell was leaving for a better job.

Wagers said Russell was torn about leaving and has promised to stay in touch with the department.