SEATTLE -- After months of interviews, public forums and calls by some city and community leaders for an outsider, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn picked an insider as Seattle's new top cop.
"It's great to be able to introduce you to our new police chief - John Diaz," McGinn announced at a Thursday news conference.
McGinn said it was a tough decision, but he said Diaz has performed well as Seattle's interim police chief during a difficult time, as the department saw one of its officers murdered and others criticized for detaining an innocent man.
(Editor's note: Chief Diaz will be live in our studio for an exclusive interview Friday morning on KING 5 Morning News on KONG 6/16.)
"If I made this decision six months ago, I have to admit I might not have picked Chief Diaz," said McGinn. But since then, McGinn said he's had the benefit of working with Diaz and has learned a lot about the department.
"In every interaction I have had with Chief Diaz, my opinion of him has gone up. He's a man of deep integrity, a hard worker and devoted to the police department and to the city," said McGinn.
Diaz, 52, took over as interim chief in May 2009 after former Chief Gil Kerlikowske was named President Obama's drug czar. A 30-year veteran of the department, he rose through the ranks from a patrol officer. Diaz emerged as a leader ten years ago as head of violent crimes, when he oversaw the arrest of a suspect in the bloody workplace rampage at a Seattle shipyard. He was named deputy chief in 2000.
The other finalist for the job was East Palo Alto, Calif., Chief Ron Davis. In a surprise move two weeks ago, the third finalist, Sacramento Chief Rick Braziel, withdrew his application, saying the California city was a better fit for him.
Diaz, who still must be confirmed by the City Council, told the news conference that his department has been tested and criticized in recent months. But "no one's going to be harder on the Seattle Police Department than ourselves," he said.
As interim chief for the past 16 months, Diaz's been praised for helping solve major crimes, including an arrest in the Halloween death of Seattle Officer Timothy Brenton and a string of arsons in the Greenwood neighborhood.
Diaz has also been tested by other incidents, including two controversial use of police force incidents that were caught on tape. One showed a Seattle police officer yelling a racial slur and kicking a Latino suspect, who was later let go after police realized they had the wrong man.
Diaz, who is Latino, was quick to condemn the racial comment and launched an internal investigation.
Another video emerged last week of an officer punching a 17-year-old girl after she shoved him as he tried to arrest her friend for jaywalking. The girl later apologized and has been charged with third-degree assault, while Diaz ordered a review of police training procedures.
City Attorney Peter Holmes then ripped into the department and its commanders, saying, "Incidents such as these underscore the void in leadership at the top."
Diaz on Thursday said he will work hard to build a closer relationship between police and the community.
"You're going to hear that theme—cooperation," he said. "We take that scrutiny seriously and we need to take it seriously. It is important from you as a media, for the community to really hold our feet to the fire. As I said, as much as I believe in this profession, it has such incredible rewards, but there's some great responsibility and we always have to insure we're doing the best for our community."
Holmes said his personal view was that a chief should be chosen from outside the department or the selection process restarted.
Holmes nevertheless congratulated Diaz on his appointment and pledged to work with him.
Tim Burgess, chairman of the City Council's Public Safety and Education Committee, said in a statement that he was impressed with Diaz' leadership in the past year, but the department is at a crucial point.
"The council must now do its part to weigh what is best for the police department and the city as a whole," Burgess wrote. "We will conduct a thorough confirmation process."
The Seattle Police Officer's Guild congratulation Diaz on his appointment. "SPOG applauds Mayor Mike McGinn for choosing Chief Diaz. We appreciate the Mayor's thoughtful approach in making this very difficult decision. By selecting an internal candidate, we thank the Mayor for recognizing what all of the nine finalists for the position expressed: 'SPD enjoys a great reputation and it is one of the best police departments in the nation,'" the guild said in a released statement.
KING5.com's Liza Javier, Travis Pittman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.