The three people vying to be Seattle's next police chief tried to woo and prove themselves to Seattle residents in a whirlwind of appearances yesterday. The city council grilled them with questions in the morning and then the public got their chance in an evening forum. Here are the two best things each of them said last night (and I'll follow up again after the press grills them tomorrow):
The first of the three candidates is Sacramento's Police Chief Rick Braziel:
Braziel was visibly nervous. At times his voice held the hypnotic slickness of a used car salesman. I could swear he was trying to sell me a 1986 Chrysler Lebaron with great mileage every time he said something like, "our job is to serve the best interests of our customers." He used the word customer a lot.
But here's what he did well:
When faced with serious officer misconduct in Sacramento (similar to Seattle's Mexican piss incident), Braziel says simply "the officer was put on administrative leave the next day. I called NAACP, we talked, then we released the story to media the next day." Braziel said that in the end, the incident wasn't much of a story because "the leaders in the community trusted that we were going to deal with it appropriately."
In other words, Braziel—when faced with a similar problem—did the opposite of Seattle's interim chief John Diaz, whose department heard about (alleged) police misconduct, began an investigation a week later, and waited to put the officers involved on reassignment until after the issue exploded in the press the next month.
Which brings us to Diaz. He surprised me last night. He was relaxed and personable, but more to the point, he answered questions with a specificity that his morning interview lacked.
When asked about how he partners with health and human service providers to make communities more safe, Diaz name-checked the Drug Market Initiative as a success story. Last September, SPD rounded up 17 low-level dealers in the Central District and basically said 'stop dealing or go to jail.' Then law enforcement left the room and human service providers laid out a list of resources for the dealers. Basically, it was a big-assed intervention. And he says it worked. "So far, it's been a success. Out of 17 dealers, 11 of them have still stayed out of trouble. We're going to replicate it in another area."
That's good to hear. Too bad Diaz didn't think of replicating it in Pioneer Square recently.
Davis also came out fighting to be Seattle's next police chief. He spun what many to consider to be his greatest weakness—running a department of 39 sworn officers compared to Seattle's 1,350 sworn officers—into a strength by saying that leading a smaller community made him an expert at neighborhood policing, and that "we shouldn’t police Seattle as a whole." He also vowed to make Seattle the safest big city in the country. His work at Oakland's police department, and his record of reducing crime in East Palo Alto prove that he can make this happen, he says.
Then Davis nailed the question of racial profiling in police departments: "Race is a descriptor, not a predictor," he says. Officers need to be aware of racial profiling and how they handle probable cause stops, but then he added that racial profiling is also present in communities of color, and "to limit the issue of profiling to racism is missing a bigger picture. This is about human behavior that we all share." He says that when communities have open discussions about race and human biases, "the better we can come up with responses" within the department.
Diaz and Davis are both stepping up their games but the job is Braziel's to lose, in my opinion. Mayor Mike McGinn, who was at the forum last night (the man cannot resist a good forum!) and is expected to make his decision in the next several weeks. His appointment must then be confirmed by city council.