As newly appointed Police Chief John Diaz awaits confirmation by the city council, a curious suggestion has been publicly aired, calling on the council to challenge, perhaps reject, the mayor's "inside pick." The reasoning advanced for such a move is as flawed as the suggestion.
Ostensibly, so the argument goes, Seattle could use new leadership from outside, with the implication that an outside chief would deal with the "culture" of the department as well as put an end to the kind of regrettable police-citizen clashes that have occurred in the city recently — as though whatever problems the department presents stem from insiders in the administrative ranks.
The call for an outside appointee is quite beyond comprehension. An outside chief is exactly what Seattle has had for, at least, the past 30 years!
Pat Fitzsimons came from New York City, Norm Stamper hailed from San Diego, and Gil Kerlikowske arrived from Buffalo. Seattle enjoyed an era of remarkable professional police leadership under these three chiefs but none of their tenures was unmarred by police-citizen clashes. Several of those, in fact, were far worse than anything that's occurred on Diaz's watch.
One among a number of their collective accomplishments was the identification and promotion of young officers like Diaz who demonstrated the qualities one would wish to see in positions of departmental responsibility. A department without leaders who come up through its ranks is a department in serious trouble. The fact that the Seattle police department has a generally good reputation, even among its critics, is a sign not only of leadership at the top but also skilled and able commanders in its ranks.
As to the recent police-citizen clashes, no department or police chief — outsider or insider — has found a way to prevent them from occurring. Every such incident is to be deplored; each has its own seriousness.
But I happen to be writing from Berkeley — the town just north of Oakland, a California city that is still roiled by the fatal shooting of a 23-year old by a transit policeman on New Year'ês Eve, a year and a half ago. And the city of New York finds itself having to pay out over $7 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of another 23-year old fatally shot by the police in 2006, on what would have been his wedding day.
We should hope fervently that Seattle never encounters "incidents" of this latter kind. When examined alongside the assassination of Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton last October and the murder of four Lakewood police officers a month later, we are reminded soberly of how tragically violent this business of policing can be, for citizens and police officers alike.
Rather that spurious speculation about the merits of an outside vs. an inside appointee, the city would be best served by the confirmation of Chief Diaz, so that he can get on with the critical task of seeking to provide the best police service possible for our community.