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Originally published Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 4:09 PM

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Getting the right fit for Seattle police chief

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has a tough decision to make to hire the most qualified finalist to be the next Seattle police chief. All three final candidates bring different strengths.

IN the next few days or weeks, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn will make one of the most critical decisions of his mayoral tenure: selecting a new police chief. The new chief must truly connect with the mayor and the city. The challenge is to find the most qualified candidate and the right fit.

Public safety, civility and order — or lack of it — on city streets are key priorities for any Seattle leader, though McGinn has not shown much interest so far. Perhaps until now. The process for selecting a chief featured a stellar search committee and an exhaustive and open interview process for all three finalists.

The good news for Seattle is all three candidates — Interim Seattle Chief John Diaz, Sacramento Chief Rick Braziel and East Palo Alto Chief Ron Davis — are talented and bring different strengths.

If the goal is to hire the police chief of tomorrow, an innovative and creative thinker comfortable with sophisticated use of data and technology, then Braziel is the better pick.

If the idea is to look at more troubled parts of the department and be blunt and honest about race and social justice, Davis is nationally known on racial profiling and works in this field with the Department of Justice. He would also focus on high standards of conduct for all officers.

If the mayor seeks a steady hand, a man trusted by the officers after putting in his many years, the mayor will select Diaz, who brings a quiet dignity and the chance for Seattle to have the first insider chief in decades.

The next chief should hit three important notes: He must be trusted by the mayor and council, no easy feat; he must have the confidence of officers; he must have decent community-relations skills.

Both Braziel and Davis provide fresh eyes, a new look at policing in Seattle, though Davis is the biggest risk because he faces the steepest learning curve. He must step up from managing a department of 39 officers to one with 1,350 sworn officers. Sacramento is more comparable with 800 officers

If you hire Diaz, you signal you do not expect much change, which may be an unfair interpretation because interim anythings do not rock the boat much. They often wait until they have full title.

Diaz gets credit for supporting reasonable anti-aggressive-panhandling legislation when the mayor did not. He is an independent thinker. In the area of street disorder, Davis offered a political answer that he would tell the mayor or council his views in private.

Braziel was more thoughtful in explaining the need for comprehensive and flexible panhandling laws, with plenty of carrots and sticks to make it all work. He offers a coherent plan for police assignments, one that puts officers on the street at the time of highest demand.

Diaz gets kudos for a recent, sophisticated sweep of drug dealers in Pioneer Square that involved heavy planning and coordination with the prosecutor's office. He also presided over the hideous case of a gang officer yelling ethnic slurs at a possible suspect who was not charged with anything, an event captured on videotape.

Diaz' reaction to this ugly moment was appropriate. He said he would start over rebuilding relations with the Latino and other communities.

It would be dishonest to pretend race is not a factor in this hiring. Davis would be the city's first black police chief, which would send a powerful message to parts of the city. Diaz is Latino; Braziel, Caucasian.

But the mayor also must consider diversity of thinking and approach.

How much does the department need a spokesman and community cheerleader? Davis and Braziel have better speaking skills. Diaz is quieter by nature.

Braziel lodged great points about treating residents like customers. Sacramento schools and police department have close connections.

Davis has infectious wit and charm and he turned around one of the toughest police departments in the country.

Diaz is highly regarded by current police staff.

McGinn has a tough decision. The next chief will be an integral part of Seattle and its approach to public safety and civility for many years.

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