Let's not dwell on blaming John Diaz for his 13 months as Seattle's interim police chief—the lack of transparency, the shortfalls of accountability, his inability to speak above a whisper.
This is day one in his job as Seattle's shiny new police chief. He may still prove to be a miserable failure, but right now he's working with a clean slate, a twinkle in his eye, and, as always, a smartly trimmed mustache. Realistically, we need to give him a shot. We also need to hold him accountable for fixing his past mistakes, because while everyone makes mistakes, leaders learn from theirs.
Until now, Diaz's job was to keep the department running smoothly—not make his mark as a chief. The mayor even acknowledged this morning that "If I had made this decision six months ago, I might not have picked Chief Diaz." But over six months of working with him, McGinn said that "every interaction I've had with Chief Diaz, my opinion has gone up."
While the mayor's opinion has gone up, residents have had plenty of good reasons to criticize Diaz: SPD's ineffectual response to the "Mexican piss" beating, restricting public access to police reports, and being a terrible public speaker to name a few. (The mayor tried to spin Diaz's terrible speaking presence by saying that "leadership comes in many flavors and varieties." That is bullshit, obviously. Being a leader means being able to express your thoughts, ideally in front of a crowd and through other avenues, like the media or shadow puppets. Diaz consistently fails at both).
But those are Diaz's past mistakes. Today, our shiny new police chief acknowledged that changes must be made (albeit with language that was less than charismatic). "It comes back to me," Diaz says of criticism that the department is stale and uncommunicative. "I don't market the department well. I need to get better at this. I need to lay out all the different initiatives we have going on."
Yes, he does, because SPD is doing some great work: Some of its initiatives include the new neighborhood crime map and a pilot program that will have officers knocking on doors and surveying residents in every neighborhood to find out what crime and safety issues concern them the most. Even the new nightlife safety plan, which has been met with mixed results by Belltown residents, is nonetheless both responsive and innovative. "We're trying to be more responsive to unique neighborhood needs," Diaz explained.
And while the NAACP has also expressed concerns with SPD under Diaz's leadership, Diaz said this morning, "I need to reach out to the NAACP," adding that it was his responsibility to improve their relationship through action, not sound bites. "Our department has been tested and criticized in recent months," he said. "We take this scrutiny very seriously."
Diaz says he's intent on changing things. So who's confident he can make these changes?
"We've known since the start that he's the right man for this position," says Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de La Raza. "He's worked his way up through the ranks, he has 30 years experience in the department, and he's a man of integrity. We're very pleased." Rich O'Niell, president of the Seattle Police Officer's Guild, applauded the mayor's choice, calling Diaz "battle tested" and an "excellent choice." Seattle City Council Member Tim Burgess, chair of the council's safety committee, said in a written statement that he's "been impressed with Diaz's leadership over the past 15 months."
Chief Diaz encouraged critics to "hold [his] feet to the fire" when he makes mistakes in the future. Hopefully, it won't come to that—not right away at least. Diaz deserves time to prove that he can be the leader Seattle needs. However, if he doesn't, it behooves him to know that we at The Stranger are known to carry around blow torches.