After sequestering themselves for hours around a ring of banquet tables inside City Hall, a 26-member search committee announced on May 11 that it had reduced a pool of nine candidates for Seattle police chief down to three front-runners. Two are from California and one is Seattle interim police chief John Diaz, who has been filling Gil Kerlikowske's vacated position since he left a year ago to become the nation's drug czar. That is to say, two candidates represent a changing of the guard at the Seattle Police Department (SPD); Diaz represents staying the course.

The decision now rests entirely with Mayor Mike McGinn, who is slated to make his pick by mid-June. His selection is something like a dating game. In addition to picking a candidate he likes and wants to spend time with, at the crux of McGinn's task are three questions: Who is best for the rank-and-file officers of a large police force? Who is best for communities—particularly neighborhoods hardest hit by crime—that are desperate for a responsive department? Who can extend a sense of trust to the public?

The last question takes us to our first candidate: How does Seattle feel about the police leadership we have now?

John Diaz

Although Diaz has served with the SPD for 30 years and has a strong relationship with the mayor and beat cops, he has made a weak impression in Seattle neighborhoods. "I don't know what Diaz has done for the community. Good or bad, I just don't know," says Mariana Quarnstrom, president of the Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council. The department is understaffed in her precinct, and she has sought—and failed to find—better lines of communication with beat cops and brass. "There's a distance that I don't think should exist between command staff and neighborhoods."

Most recently, Diaz has struggled to mitigate the fallout of a controversial videotape, aired by KIRO on May 6, that shows Seattle detective Shandy Cobane appearing to stomp his boot onto a Latino suspect's head and yelling, "I'm going to beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you, homey" while other officers looked on. Then Officer Mary Woollum appears to stomp the man's kneecap against the pavement. Officers released the detainee moments later when they realized he wasn't a suspect in an alleged robbery.

Latino himself, Diaz condemned the language used by his officer and vowed a thorough review. But questions arose. An internal investigation began a week after police first learned the footage existed; however, the involved officers were not placed on administrative reassignment until after KIRO ran the video weeks later. Why wait to get these cops off the street? Acting deputy chief Nicholas Metz said at a press conference on May 7, "We handle these things on a case-by-case basis." He said that "tension" had affected the "integrity of the investigation."

Under Diaz, some say the SPD has allowed a systemic tolerance of malfeasance. Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza—a Latino advocacy group—joined a coalition on May 18 calling for the firing of the officers at the center of the incident. She also blasted the culture of the SPD: "We believe that there is an insidious culture of tolerance within the Seattle Police Department that causes officers, including supervisors, to be silent even when there is criminal wrongdoing on the part of their colleagues." Ortega, however, supports Diaz because she wants a Latino police chief.

The ACLU of Washington was also alarmed: "The ACLU has concerns not only about the racial epithet heard on the tape, but also about the conduct of all the officers at the scene... We could not tell from the video whether there was any response or statement of concern about the incident by other officers."

The SPD hasn't always been an ally to Seattle's nightlife under Diaz's watch. Police officers approached club owners before the last election season in what appeared to be a politicized attempt to hassle clubs that opposed former city attorney Tom Carr (who was aggressively supported by the Seattle Police Guild). One bar owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said at the time: "The tone of the visits has changed. They are more menacing and more confrontational. And this all coincides with the nightlife community's support of [city attorney candidate] Pete Holmes."

Meanwhile, police have maintained marijuana arrests despite a city initiative to make them the city's lowest law-enforcement priority, and Holmes, who took office as city attorney on January 1, vowing to stop marijuana prosecutions. Seattle police arrested and referred 34 cases of marijuana possession to the city attorney's office in January, even though they would not be prosecuted.

But much of the discontent comes from neighborhood leaders who, like Seattle at large, simply want a more accountable, accessible police department—something that Diaz hasn't necessarily delivered in the year he's had to prove himself. Holly Krejci, chair of the Georgetown Community Council, says she has had "very limited contact with SPD unless we initiate it. I think it'd serve us well to see someone else in that position."

Ronald Davis

East Palo Alto police chief Ronald Davis runs a small department with only 39 sworn officers—compared to Seattle's estimated 1,350 sworn officers. That's his biggest disadvantage.

When he became chief in 2005, East Palo Alto had the fifth-highest murder rate in the nation and funding for officer-to-citizen staffing was among the lowest in the state. He sought to fix those problems.

Davis helped secure $15 million in grants and funding for his department (its annual operating budget is roughly $9 million), hired more officers, and launched regular neighborhood beat meetings with residents and "Chats with the Chief" to earn back city trust. He helped develop a youth court to keep misdemeanor offenders out of juvenile detention, where recidivism rates are much higher.

"He sits down at the table with us," says Franklin Matthews, director of A Better Way Foundation, which offers inner-city youth job skills and performing-arts classes. "Even when events occur that put officers in a bad light, he's holding town-hall meetings to gauge how we can improve things."

Rick Braziel

But the best candidate is Sacramento police chief Rick Braziel. Braziel is strongest, it seems, in the areas where Diaz and Davis are weakest. Braziel has the chops to run a large department and a refreshing take on police transparency and accountability. He took control of the Sacramento Police Department in 2008—a department with 800 officers—after working through its ranks for 28 years. His goal was simple: redefine policing as a collaborative, community effort. And he did it. Civic leaders, police officers, and the mayor all praise his work.

"He's probably our most highly regarded public servant," says Kunal Merchant, chief of staff to Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. Wendy Rea Hill, executive director of the Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Center, adds, "We've never had such a positive working relationship with law enforcement."

Braziel is considered a national expert on community policing, which involves beat cops working with service providers and local leaders. In fact, he cowrote a book on it, COP Talk: Essential Communication Skills for Community Policing.

Braziel began in Sacramento by updating the department's website with neighborhood-specific links, crime updates, police reports, a blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Under his guidance, the Sacramento Police Department became more tech savvy than a prepubescent teen.

When his office faced a report in 2008 that alleged disparately high police stops of blacks and Latinos, Braziel acknowledged that people may not trust his department and said that a report's recommendations didn't go far enough to rectify the problem. And when an officer was charged with defrauding the welfare system, Braziel said, "We don't tolerate this kind of behavior. Once we establish that someone has committed this type of crime, we act swiftly," Sacramento television station KCRA reported.

Add to his résumé: Braziel has partnered with private-sector businesses to provide management training for command staff and helped start a high-school magnet academy that gets students job-ready for the police department after graduation.

In 2008, Sacramento was a hotbed of Proposition 8 proponents and opponents fighting over the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry. "Chief Braziel made the health and safety of the LGBT community his first priority," says Hill. "We saw that reflected in resources and the coverage he gave us on the website."

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That attitude extended far beyond Proposition 8, which passed in November 2008. Hill says gay rights are a highly divisive issue in Sacramento, in part because of the city's large immigrant population, which identifies with a conservative religious background. "But any time an assault happens, the police department is the first to respond to us," says Hill. Several years ago, a gay teenager was killed on July 4 in an apparent hate crime, and Hill says Chief Braziel took action. "Because of him, we have our own community liaison, we have a police officer on our pride-festival committee to help us plan for safety every step of the way. The department truly is our first point of contact for anything."

Right now, more than ever, a police-chief candidate who brings fresh blood and a track record of community policing, accountability, and transparency—a candidate like Rick Braziel—is what Seattle needs. recommended