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The Seattle Police Department this morning named Amazon vice president Greg Russell as its new chief information officer — aiming to boost its technological prowess and improve its ability to use data to fight crime.

Amazon VP Greg Russell will become the Seattle Police Department's new CIO next week.
Amazon VP Greg Russell will become the Seattle Police Department’s new CIO next week. (Seattle PD Photo)

Russell, 46, was previously an Amazon vice president overseeing areas including corporate applications, information technology and enterprise data warehousing. He starts at the Seattle Police Department on March 17, part of a broader management shakeup by Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole.

In addition to overseeing the Seattle PD’s internal technology systems, Russell will be tasked with finding new ways of using data to track and predict crime, while balancing those capabilities with the privacy concerns of citizens. The department has been grappling with issues related to police body cameras, video disclosure, drones and other forms of emerging technology.

“There will always be worries about what you’re going to do with the information,” said Russell in an interview posted this morning on the official SPD Blotter site. “If (you’re) transparent with how you’re going to use the information, and you make sure people can actually see it, I think most people will accept that.”

Russell, a native of Scotland who lives on Bainbridge Island, became a U.S. citizen last year. He will make $180,000 a year as the Seattle PD’s CIO — a 65 percent pay cut from his Amazon job, reports KING 5 News. He was the department’s top pick but originally turned down the job before reconsidering, according to the KING 5 report.

So why did he decide to take the job?

“Amazon was a fabulous company to be at. I learned so much,” Russell said in the SPD Blotter interview. “That’s the smartest team I’ve ever worked with. It grew me as an individual. But, really, what I’m doing is helping ship brown boxes across the universe. Is that useful to the world? I wanted the opportunity to give something back.”

The new job will be a major cultural shift for Russell, who operated largely behind-the-scenes at the secretive Seattle tech company. In the SPD Blotter interview, he foreshadowed his approach in the CIO’s role. “Transparency to me means you’re being brutally honest with the information,” he said. “You’re not trying to sway it one way or the other. The data is the data. You’re just making it available.”

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