Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel has withdrawn as one of three finalists for the job of Seattle police chief.
The sudden and unexpected withdrawal of Sacramento, Calif., Police Chief Rick Braziel as a finalist for Seattle’s next police chief leaves Mayor Mike McGinn with two distinctly different choices for the job.
One, John Diaz, is the consummate insider, a 30-year veteran who rose through the ranks to lead Seattle police through one of the department’s most tumultuous years in recent memory.
The other, Ron Davis, has been a chief for five years, albeit in a 39-officer department in the small San Francisco Bay Area town of East Palo Alto, population 33,000.
The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild has raised doubts about Davis’ experience because that city is so much smaller than Seattle, an assertion that Davis disputed Thursday by citing his experience dealing with big-city issues in his current position and in his previous job with the Oakland Police Department.
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But whether the choice becomes any easier for McGinn now that Braziel has dropped out is a question. The mayor wouldn’t say during a news conference Wednesday, although he did acknowledge he was “disappointed” with the withdrawal of Braziel, whom he called “a strong candidate.”
McGinn has said he expected to make a decision sometime this month.
Saying Sacramento is “a better fit for me,” Braziel told The Sacramento Bee newspaper Wednesday that he had decided to stay put. Through a spokesman, he declined to speak with The Seattle Times about his decision.
“It was a very personal decision for him and a hard one,” Sacramento police spokesman Konrad Von Schoech told The Times.
Braziel, 50, decided to remain in Sacramento after discussions with community leaders, his family and department employees, Von Schoech said. The support and “people wishing him to stay, it really touched him.”
According to The Bee, there also was a financial incentive to stay.
When Braziel succeeded the previous chief two years ago, he voluntarily took an 8 percent pay cut. Braziel told The Bee on Wednesday that the city had agreed to restore the money.
But Braziel told the newspaper his decision never was about the money.
“I’ve got a great job. I’m very happy here,” he said. “Would I be any happier in Seattle than I would be here? And the answer is no.”
McGinn said Wednesday that Braziel called Carl Marquardt, an attorney in the mayor’s office, to say he was withdrawing. The mayor said he called Braziel’s cellphone Wednesday morning and left a message, but as of Wednesday afternoon the two had not spoken personally.
“I don’t believe I had anything to do with him dropping out,” McGinn said in response to a reporter’s question during Wednesday’s news conference.
“I appreciated meeting him and learning about the remarkable things he has accomplished in Sacramento,” McGinn wrote in a statement. “I was impressed with his candor and the thoughts he shared during the candidates’ public forum last week in Seattle. The people of Sacramento are lucky to have him.
“Fortunately,” McGinn added, ” the Police Chief Search Committee did an excellent job, and we have two strong candidates for consideration.”
Diaz, 52, was named interim chief 15 months ago when former Chief Gil Kerlikowske left to become President Obama’s drug czar. Among the crises he has faced was the fatal shooting of Officer Tim Brenton and the wounding of his partner on Halloween night, and the apprehension of the accused gunman, Christopher Monfort, 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 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.
Davis, 46, regarded by some as a rising star, spent 19 years with the Oakland Police Department, rising to captain before taking the East Palo Alto job in 2005.
He is credited in East Palo Alto with cutting violent crime in a town once dubbed the nation’s per-capita murder capital, as well as with restoring community trust and morale in what was a deeply troubled police department.
The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which earlier in the week said it favored Braziel if the mayor went with an outsider, criticized Davis on Wednesday for his lack of experience running a large police department.
Guild President Rich O’Neill questioned whether Davis should have been among the three who advanced from a group of 10 semifinalists. He said Davis did not even meet the requirements put forth by the mayor, including one that called for 10 years of command experience.
By O’Neill’s reckoning, Davis’ experience as a captain in Oakland and chief in East Palo Alto amounted to about six years of command.
“I hope he will be capable of the job down the road,” said O’Neill, who was a member of the search committee. “But I think we’d like to see one more stop along the way.”
Davis responded Thursday, saying chiefs in a number of big cities have made the jump from smaller departments.
He even noted that O’Neill, a sergeant whose rank would normally oversee a small squad of officers, oversees the largest police union in the Northwest.
Davis said the Guild is entitled to its opinion, but that he disagrees with it.
He said he has tackled big-city issues in his current job that occur no matter the size of his department, citing the killing of one of his officers, gang operations and major emergency incidents as examples.
In 25 years, he said, there has not been “a big-city issue that has not crossed my desk,” he said.
O’Neill said the guild was now throwing its support behind Diaz, although he shied away from calling it an endorsement.
“We want someone who wants to be here,” said O’Neill. “Chief Diaz has proven he wants to be here.”
Braziel’s withdrawal also came just as a Seattle Latino leader questioned his fitness for the job.
Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza, a Latino social-justice organization, told The Seattle Times on Tuesday she had expressed concerns to the mayor’s office after Braziel told a public forum in Seattle last week that he thought the first step in immigration reform is to secure the nation’s borders.
At the forum, a representative of the Washington Immigration Reform Coalition asked the finalists’ views on local police working with federal authorities to identify illegal immigrants and whether each had spoken out nationally about the issue.
Braziel responded that he had spoken out nationally on the need for immigration reform and then said, “First of all, my position on that issue is that we first need to secure our borders.”
Braziel told the audience that “if we don’t secure our borders, then … no matter much immigration reform you do, we’re still at risk.”
But Braziel said “we need serious immigration reform” and spoke of the importance of not asking crime victims and witnesses about their immigration status.
Ortega said Davis and Diaz provided more forceful answers, stressing that their departments do not cooperate with federal authorities in identifying the immigration status of crime victims and witnesses.
Ortega said that while Davis and Diaz were categorical in their statements, she was troubled that Braziel had a “status quo” answer often given by politicians.
Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said Braziel’s withdrawal leaves the mayor with “a very distinct choice.”
“Now we have a candidate from a small town with a very different experience and a very different town, and an inside candidate,” he said. “It will be interesting to see where the mayor comes down.”
Steve Miletich: 205-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org