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Originally published June 24, 2010 at 9:39 AM | Page modified June 25, 2010 at 7:47 AM

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McGinn picks Diaz as Seattle's police chief

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced Thursday that Seattle interim Police Chief John Diaz is his choice to run the department.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced Thursday that Seattle interim Police Chief John Diaz is his choice to run the department, passing over East Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis.

Diaz is a 30-year veteran who rose through the ranks to lead Seattle police through one of the department's most turbulent years in recent memory. The nomination will be forwarded to the City Council for its consideration.

In naming Diaz as chief, McGinn praised his leadership and said that his respect for Diaz has grown with every conversation and meeting they've had.

"If I had made this decision six months ago, I might not have picked Chief Diaz," McGinn said. But the mayor said he has "listened and learned" over the past six months of working with Diaz, and became convinced that he was the best candidate.

"With every interaction I've had with him, my opinion of him has gone up," the mayor said.

Councilman Tim Burgess, who chairs the Public Safety and Education Committee, said in a written statement that he has been "impressed" with Diaz's leadership through the trials of the past year, but added that the department is "at a crucial point."

"It needs strong leadership in light of the financial cutbacks coming this year and next. It must rebuild public trust in the professionalism of all of our officers. It needs to embrace new innovations in policing. It must retool officer deployment strategies. The council must carefully evaluate these and other factors and make a reasoned judgment about Mayor McGinn's appointment," Burgess wrote.

"Mayor McGinn faced a tough choice and he decided to stay the course under Chief Diaz's leadership. The Council must now do its part to weigh what is best for the police department and the city as a whole. We will conduct a thorough confirmation process."

Diaz is also the first permanent chief picked from the ranks of the department in more than 30 years.

Diaz said his appointment sends a message to every officer in the department, "that you can someday lead this organization."

The chief had already won the support of the Seattle Police Guild, and its president, Rich O'Neill said after the mayor's news conference that the "choice was obvious."

"Why would you go with an unproven person when you've got someone who's been battle-tested throught the worst of times?" O'Neill asked. "I applaud the mayor. I told him back there, I think he hit one out of the park."

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The other candidate, Davis, is chief of the small San Francisco Bay Area town of East Palo Alto, Calif., population 33,000. The Seattle Police Officers' Guild had raised doubts about Davis' experience because that city is so much smaller than Seattle, an assertion that Davis had disputed by citing his experience dealing with big-city issues in his current position and in his previous job with the Oakland Police Department.

A third candidate, Sacramento, Calif., Police Chief Rick Braziel, withdrew as a finalist earlier this month.

Diaz, 52, was named interim chief 15 months ago when former Chief Gil Kerlikowske left to become President Obama's drug czar. During his tenure running the department, Diaz faced the fatal shooting of Officer Tim Brenton and the wounding of Brenton's partner on Halloween night. The accused gunman, Christopher Monfort, was apprehended by Seattle detectives on the day of Brenton's funeral.

A month later, Seattle police were drawn into the intense manhunt for Maurice Clemmons, who killed four Lakewood police officers in a Pierce County coffee shop. The manhunt ended Dec. 2, when a Seattle officer fatally shot Clemmons.

Last month, video footage surfaced showing a Seattle gang detective and a patrol officer kicking a Latino man in April, with one using ethnically inflammatory language. Since then, Diaz, a Latino, has been both blasted and commended for his handling of an incident that's stirred tension between police and the city's minority communities.

In accepting the job, Diaz told reporters and others at the City Hall news conference that police work is "one of the noblest professions a person can undertake." He said he takes scrutiny of the department seriously and is committed to improving relationships with the city's minority communities.

He said it's his job to reach out to leaders, like the president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who have expressed distrust in Diaz's leadership in light of two recent, high-profile controversies involving officers and people of color.

"It's up to me to try and improve that relationship," he said, adding that the department will be judged not by what its chief says but the actions it takes to build trust with the community.

Diaz said the most frustrating criticism of his leadership is that he represents the status quo, pointing out that the Seattle department is a progressive, innovative agency that looks to implent best practices from other departments across the country and the globe.

"I don't market the department well," Diaz said. "I need to get better at this and lay out all the initiatives we have out there. They're pretty incredible."

Of the two candidates, the city council has leaned toward Diaz, as well, preferring his big-city experience over Davis' time in East Palo Alto. At the same time, some council members had urged the mayor to reopen the selection process.

Diaz also faces fence-mending with City Attorney Peter Holmes, who assailed the Police Department's command staff over a highly publicized jaywalking incident near Franklin High School earlier this month in which a police officer punched a 17-year-old girl after she shoved him.

Holmes on Wednesday congratulated Diaz on his appointment and pledged "to work tirelessly with him to increase the safety of everyone in Seattle while safeguarding our cherished liberties."

Assuming confirmation by the council, Holmes said, "Chief Diaz will finally be fully in command of an excellent police department that nonetheless needs his firm leadership to face the challenges ahead."

Information from Seattle Times archives was included in this report.

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