SPD job again enticing to Rick Braziel

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on January 30, 2014 at 12:11 AM

Rick Braziel says he is interested in becoming Seattle's next police chief ... again.

Three-and-a-half years after he pulled out of Seattle's last search, Braziel says he believes the city's new mayor is committed to change, something he said was not the case before.

Braziel, who served as chief of the Sacramento Police Department from 2008 until the end of 2012, was one of three finalists in Seattle's 2010 search and was considered by many to be the leading contender. He was endorsed by the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild and the Seattle Police Management Association, and got high marks from city council members.  But Braziel pulled his name from consideration at the last minute, and the job ultimately went to SPD insider John Diaz.

So what's changed that Braziel is now openly talking about the Seattle job again?

Braziel said the biggest red flag during the 2010 process was a lack of enthusiasm for police reform by the city's then-new mayor, Mike McGinn.

"My impression was that I would not be able to hit the ground running," he said. "I’d have to slow down quite a bit.” Braziel said he felt “a sense of urgency to create some change, to try new things."

Just as Braziel was named a finalist for the Seattle job in May 2012, the "Mexican piss" scandal was first reported by local media -- video of an SPD gang officer kicking a suspect and threatening to "beat the Mexican piss" out of him.

Braziel found the video appalling. At a news conference in Sacramento, he told the media, "There's no one in the country who has watched that video that isn't shocked by it. And you need to deal with it. Be up front, candid. Talk about it. I'm very prepared for that."

That video was one of several examples of problematic SPD actions that the federal government seized upon. In 2012, the city and the Justice Department entered into a legal agreement requiring major changes at SPD -- ones aimed at improving officers' treatment of minorities, reforming use-of-force policies, and beefing up citizen oversight and internal controls.

But under Mayor McGinn and Chief Diaz, many in the community -- from elected officials to watchdog groups -- faulted SPD's commitment to carrying out the changes. McGinn and Diaz were seen as resisting the reforms, and their disagreements with U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes spilled out into media reports.

And on Diaz's watch, SPD was criticized for several incidents: In August 2010, a Seattle officer shot and killed a First Nations woodcarver who was walking through a crosswalk carrying a carving knife. The department ruled the officer’s use of force unjustified, but the incident raised questions about how well SPD trained its officers in the use of deadly force. 

A few months later, veteran Seattle officer James Lee was captured on surveillance video repeatedly kicking a teenage suspect inside a Belltown convenience store. The teen appeared to be trying to surrender at the time. Lee was charged with fourth degree assault, but the city attorney later dropped the charge after an independent expert determined that Lee’s use of force was reasonable and within the teachings of the Criminal Justice Training Commission, although not the best tactic he could have been used.

As McGinn prepared for a tough 2013 reelection campaign, Diaz announced his retirement last April. McGinn tapped another longtime SPD insider -- Jim Pugel -- to serve as interim chief.

With McGinn's loss to Ed Murray in the November election, the scene was set for major changes at SPD. The new mayor appointed a new interim chief and promised to conduct a nationwide search to find a permanent chief who would move quickly to reform the police department and comply with the terms of the settlement agreement.

The 2010 'circus'

Braziel was one of three finalists for the SPD job in 2010, and he's quick to criticize the process he endured, including a rush to make his name public along with all the other candidates.

"I was rushed to notify my organization. I thought maybe when you became a finalist your name came out, I did not expect it that soon," he said.

Braziel said he knew that the new chief would need strong political backing from Mayor McGinn to implement changes quickly and efficiently.  But Braziel said McGinn told him that that he (Braziel) would not be reporting directly to him, but to one of his staffers.

McGinn denies saying that. “Of course he would have reported directly to me,” McGinn said during a telephone interview.    

"I'm not speaking ill of the former mayor," Braziel said, "but a lot of what a police chief does is deal with [city government]staff, and the staff was in my impression was  inexperienced with government and understanding the nuances between unions and management and police management and the private sector and the community. A police chief's job is very very political."

The public vetting of the chief candidates left Braziel unsettled, a process he now compares to a "circus." There was a frantic pace to the interview process, with numerous appearances -- at public forums, city council meetings, in private panels, and at news conferences.

Braziel recalled aggressive questioning during a televised interview on the Seattle Channel.

"It went from very pleasant to very much in your face trying to embarass people," he said.

Braziel withdrew his name.

McGinn said Wednesday that he was disappointed when Braziel backed out. “I wanted three choices,” he said.  “I think Braziel came to the Emerald City, clicked his heels three times and said, ‘there’s no place like home,’” McGinn said. 

A popular chief

Braziel stayed in California and continued leading Sacramento's police force. Under his leadership, the department became a national model for community policing, a topic Braziel wrote a book about. He gained a reputation as an innovator, and was beloved by the rank-and-file officers, even when budget cuts required him to lay off 150 officers.

"I would highly recommend him," one Sacramento PD officer said last week when KING 5 joined Braziel for a visit with some of his former colleagues. "If you're looking for someone to turn things around, I think he'd be a great candidate."

Another Sacramento officer said, "Chief Braziel is a great leader, even in times of budget turmoil he would come speak to us, very encouraging."

"I'm proud of what we did. I love the Sacramento Police Department," Braziel said.

Since leaving the Sacramento post, Braziel has been working for a national police foundation ... and keeping his eye on Seattle.

After Diaz announced his retirement last year, Braziel said he started getting calls from citizens and community groups in Seattle.

"You need to consider it, consider coming back and applying for the job," Braziel said, describing the message he got from Seattle contacts.

Mayor Murray's comments this month on the need to press forward with SPD reform caught Braziel's attention.

"I totally support the mayor," Braziel said. "You've got to get out from under the consent decree. That should be the number one goal. And do it the right way. Be aggressive, use it to your advantage, don't think of the recommendations just as recommendations."

At a recent news conference, Mayor Murray acknowledged there were problems with the process of hiring a new police chief four years ago and promised a shorter more streamlined process this time, with a goal of announcing his decision in April.

Braziel said he hasn't spoken with Murray or other Seattle leaders yet. The hiring process is just getting underway, with Murray convening a series of seven public workshops to gather input from Seattle citizens. The first workshop was held in the University District Tuesday night. The goal of the workshops is to learn what people are looking for in their next chief.  The information will be compiled and sent to a search committee that will eventually vet and interview candidates, sending three top selections to the mayor. 

Braziel says he is definitely interested once more.

"We’ll see.  We’ll see how that goes but Seattle's a great city and whoever the mayor selects will do a good job for the city," he said.

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