The city council's Public Safety and Education Committee meeting just ended. The entire meeting was devoted to interviewing Seattle's three finalists for police chief—Sacramento Chief Rick Braziel, East Palo Alto Chief Ron Davis, and lastly, Seattle's Interim Chief John Diaz.
Let me say this: Diaz knows Seattle's police department, that's his advantage. I believe he's competent enough and I've heard he's a great guy—but he's no public speaker. He's quiet, he rambles... it's like his mustache is talking to his chin and even his chin is having trouble staying awake. Frankly, he's nearly unquotable. Diaz might be a great police chief candidate but he's terrible at expressing himself and his ideas on a public platform, and that seriously cripples him as a leader.
Here's Diaz's take on how neighborhood policing, which SPD implemented last year (to mixed results), has improved Seattle: "As neighborhood policing continues to grow, proactive time customizes policing for this city," he says. But what does that mean? When he's prompted to elaborate on "proactive time" and how neighborhood policing is measured in terms of success, he responds,"I'm a big fan of surveys," and says the department would figure out how to best use proactive time—the downtime when officers aren't responding to calls—by posing questions to the community like, "what is your neighborhood? If you were going to find out what’s going on in your neighborhood, who would you ask?" and "What kind of changes do you need to see in your neighborhood to make it livable?" Then he says the department will measure success by "walking in every neighborhood to make sure we following through in everything we said we’re going to do."
When asked about crime downtown, things get exciting for a second: Diaz talks about partnering with the Defender's Association to create a "point of arrest diversion" system—which would give low-level offenders the option of seeking aid from social service programs instead of going to jail. This is a fantastic, innovative idea—the kind of idea liberals in this city would love, and yet Diaz doesn't expound on it. He doesn't milk it. Another innovative idea he doesn't expound on: working in south Seattle to tailor school curriculums in specific communities to deter youth violence. This is a great idea—I wanted to know more but he moves on. He doesn't know how to get the public excited about alternative policing, and that's a failure.
When asked about how he's an innovative leader, he replies, "I’m moving forward on things I believe we need to move forward on." He gives an example: revamping how calls are received, processed, and handled in the department to improve efficiency and response times, and then follows it up with quotes like, "I'll continue to try new innovations" and "it's all coming to fruition." We never know quite what "it all" is, but still, I believe Diaz—I believe that in his head, he has a list of things he's done to improve SPD and make Seattle a safer city—we're just not hearing about them.