In mid-June, Mayor Mike McGinn will pick his next police chief among three candidates: Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis, and Interim Seattle Police Chief John Diaz. Diaz has the hometown advantage: He's worked his way up through the Seattle Police Department since 1980; he's been interim chief for a year. This position is his to lose—and what's interesting to note is that on Tuesday night, when a search committee was deliberating finalists, Diaz almost didn't make the cut.
"Braziel and Davis were shoe-ins," says a committee member who asked not to be identified. "But it was neck-and-neck between [SPD Assistant chief Clark] Kimerer and Diaz, as far as internal candidates go. In the end, I think it came down to courtesy. Diaz is acting chief and we wanted to respect that."
The candidates were chosen by a 26-person search committee made up of community and business leaders, following a full day of interviews last weekend. His vision for the future of Seattle, the committee member says, is very much about "staying on course." That could be both an asset and liability for Diaz. The committee member says that Diaz spoke about maintaining an innovative drug market initiative (which appears to be working, but wasn't Diaz's idea) and a neighborhood policing plan (which some argue is not working, but, again, wasn't Diaz's idea). Diaz has also had to answer to recent criticisms about SPD's apparent misconduct scandal.
Meanwhile, Braziel has been an innovator. He helped create police academy programs in Sacramento high schools, which help train youth to walk into the department right out of high school, says the committee member. He co-authored a book on community policing (Cop Talk: Essential Communication Skills for Community Policing).
Davis, likewise, has forged his own way, repairing relationships between Palo Alto residents and the police department. He put himself and other officers on community task forces—including the Crime Reduction Task Force and the Alcohol Reduction Task Force. Through his leadership and introduction of parolee reintegration programs, he decreased crime and recidivism in Palo Alto dramatically.
The committee member says that the difference between the California candidates and Diaz is that they've rolled up their sleeves and engaged with their respective communities: "Everything they've done, and the ideas that they have, showed innovation and leadership. They spoke of being able to take the police department to the next level."
But the next police chief has to be a good fit for the community, SPD, and the mayor. "Diaz is probably the best fit for SPD," says the committee member, "But we saw Davis and Briezel as better fits for the community."
And now it's up to the mayor to decide which candidate fits best: A stalwart local or untested innovators from California.