Concerns put aside; Diaz picked as top cop
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels appointed Deputy Police Chief John Diaz as interim police chief Monday despite concerns from the police-officers union and at least one member of the City Council.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels appointed Deputy Police Chief John Diaz as interim police chief Monday despite concerns from the police officers union and at least one member of the City Council.
Nickels said the 29-year police veteran was "a natural fit" to replace Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, who has been nominated by the Obama administration to become the U.S. drug czar.
"John's outstanding reputation and deep knowledge of the department make him an obvious choice," Nickels said.
Shortly after the mayor's announcement, the Seattle Police Officers' Guild issued a statement congratulating Diaz. But a City Hall source earlier told The Seattle Times that Guild President Rich O'Neill expressed serious concerns to the mayor about Diaz's appointment. O'Neill did not return calls Sunday or Monday seeking comment.
In addition, Diaz was the subject of a spate of recent calls to the mayor's office from people who alleged serious black marks in his career, said Regina LaBelle, Nickels' legal adviser.
All of the allegations were thoroughly checked, LaBelle said, and nothing was found to support the allegations.
Diaz himself acknowledged that some within the department were working against his appointment. At the news conference with Nickels on Monday, Diaz said he'd had to make difficult decisions during his time in management, and not all of them made him popular. His style is to approach things head-on, he said.
"It's easier to say yes than to say no," he said. "I believe I've always tried to stand by my officers. ... People will make mistakes, and you have to deal with those issues."
Nickels, who is up for re-election this year, wouldn't say when he intends to make a permanent appointment.
"We will take the time necessary to be deliberative and to get it right," he said.
Diaz said he intends to apply for the permanent position, which will open if Kerlikowske's appointment as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
That concerns City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who said he would have preferred that the mayor appoint someone who wasn't going to be a candidate for the job.
"I think once you name an internal interim ... you create conflict within the department and you potentially, maybe unknowingly, scare away top candidates around the country," he said.
As chairman of the council's public-safety committee, Burgess has worked with Diaz on the city's youth-violence initiative, but he wouldn't comment about that experience.
"We're not done with that work yet," he said.
Diaz agreed to take the interim-chief post, he said, because first and foremost, "I'm a cop."
"I've always tried to remember my experience of being an officer on the street."
Diaz pledged his support for the mayor's initiatives to curb youth violence and practice neighborhood-based policing. Economic challenges in the department and elsewhere in the city budget create "a mandate rather than a reason for discouragement," he said.
Diaz has been with the department since 1980 and worked his way up through the ranks. He's been deputy chief since 2001.
Staff reporter Steve Miletich contributed to this report. Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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