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Seattle’s new police chief is department veteran

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced today that Seattle interim Police Chief John Diaz is his choice to run the department, passing over East Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis.

Diaz is a 30-year veteran who rose through the ranks to lead Seattle police through one of the department’s most turbulent years in recent memory.

The nomination will be forwarded to the City Council for its consideration.

Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick also was a candidate for the position.

The other finalist, Davis, is chief of the small San Francisco Bay Area town of East Palo Alto, population 33,000. The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild had raised doubts about Davis’ experience because that city is so much smaller than Seattle, an assertion that Davis had disputed by citing his experience dealing with big-city issues in his current position and in his previous job with the Oakland Police Department.

Diaz, 52, was named interim chief 15 months ago when former Chief Gil Kerlikowske left to become President Obama’s drug czar. During his tenure running the department, Diaz faced the fatal shooting of Officer Tim Brenton and the wounding of Brenton’s partner on Halloween night. The accused gunman, Christopher Monfort, was apprehended 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 Seattle 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.

Diaz has the support of the police guild, which has praised him for his leadership during one of the most difficult years in the department’s history. The city council has leaned toward Diaz as well, preferring his big-city experience over Davis’s time in East Palo Alto. At the same time, some council members had urged the mayor to reopen the selection process.

Diaz also faces a rocky time with City Attorney Peter Holmes, who assailed the Police Department’s command staff over a highly publicized jaywalking incident near Franklin High School in which a police officer punched a 17-year-old girl after she shoved him.