If there's one thing Seattle already knows about the next police chief, it's that his goals will be set high. At a meeting with the press Friday, June 4, all three candidates pledged that if chosen for the job, they would strive for perfection on all levels: neighborhood safety, police conduct, crime levels, and community relations.
The three finalists differ in some respects though, perhaps most notably that one is an insider, and two are chiefs of California cities. Interim Chief John Diaz has already been tested in the position and has reacted to local issues. For instance, he supported the panhandling ordinance.
"This whole idea of fear reduction is a legitimate concern," he said at the June 4 meeting. He emphasized that such legislation is just one tool to solve the problem, however, and has talked with Mayor McGinn, who vetoed the ordinance, about other available options, including evaluating lighting and deployment of officers.
Chief Ron Davis of East Palo Alto, Calif. said as a non-legislator he would not have taken a public stance on the controversy, but he would offer technical advice to the mayor and council. Davis said of the issue though, "I would never be engaged in anything that would criminalize homelessness."
At the press meeting, Chief Rick Braziel of Sacramento, Calif. was not questioned directly about the panhandling ordinance, but did discuss connecting homeless people with social services in order to get them the resources they need. "It's all about compassion," he said. Braziel told of two Sacramento officers who are essentially liaisons to the homeless population there. They have such good rapport with the homeless community that they have been given nicknames: "Batman" and "Robin."
The three candidates were also questioned about the handling of the recent incident captured on video in which a police officer used a racial slur, and another stepped on the prone suspect, who was later determined to be innocent. All three chiefs said restoring community trust is one of the most immediate challenges of the department, given the incident.
Diaz focused on the accountability process, in which the officers' conduct is currently under investigation. "We're going to have another incident," but officers are disciplined if necessary, said Diaz. Recently a King County judge agreed with Diaz's decision, challenged by the Seattle Police Officers Guild, to fire an officer for lying.
Regarding the videotaped incident, Chief Davis said he would work at improving police race relations and ensuring that the police force embraces diversity. Chief Braziel said he was most concerned about the police culture that allowed for other officers walking around in the video who did nothing to stop the aggression.
It was apparent at the press conference how the candidates differ in personality. Diaz, who calls himself "blunt," noted "I'm not a soundbite guy." A fast talker, Davis was cracking jokes throughout his session with the press, while Braziel was earnest, with a warm demeanor.
Mayor McGinn will make a final selection from among the three sometime later this month. All three candidates were asked what makes him the most qualified for the job, and Chief Braziel summed up the process with the answer, "The most qualified is the best fit with the mayor."