UPDATE Saturday, June 19 9:45 a.m: I wrote a piece about the importance of the Mayor's police chief appointment this week that was published at Crosscut.com. It's likely the Mayor will announce his selection this next week, perhaps as early as Monday or Tuesday.
UPDATE Wednesday, June 9 1 p.m: Chief Rick Braziel from Sacramento withdrew from consideration today. I am disappointed because he was an exceptionally well qualified candidate. He could have assumed command of the police department from day one and provided outstanding leadership.
Mayor McGinn will name a new Seattle police chief in the next week or two. It will be, by far, the most important decision of his term as Mayor. Here's a bit of history, perspective and commentary about his appointment.
Marshal John T. Jordan (photo to left) was Seattle's first top cop, elected by the voters in 1869 when the city was officially formed. The title was changed to Chief of Police in 1883, but the public continued to elect the city's top police commander until 1891 when a five-member Board of Police Commissioners, chaired by the Mayor, started appointing the police chief.
The police commission was abolished in 1896 and the Mayor gained sole authority to appoint the Chief. During the 1930s and 1940s, Seattle's police chief served a fixed five-year term in office. That changed in 1946 following World War II when the fixed term was eliminated.
45 individuals have served as police chief in Seattle, including those early-year marshals. The last permanent chief appointed from within the ranks of the police department was 36 years ago when Robert Hanson, chosen by then-Mayor Wes Uhlman, was confirmed on a razor thing five-to-four vote by the City Council. Hanson served as chief from 1974 to 1978.
The typical length of service for a major city police chief in the United States is about three-and-a-half years. Seattle's most recent chiefs bucked that trend. Gil Kerlikowske served nine years until he left in 2009 to become director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Norm Stamper was chief for six years before he resigned following the December 1999 WTO protests. Seattle's longest serving chief—15 years—was Patrick Fitzsimons who held the position from 1979 through 1994.
Mayor McGinn will select his nominee from three applicants forward to him by a 26-members citizen's committee. The candidates are Interim Chief John Diaz and two candidates from California, Rick Braziel from Sacramento and Ron Davis from East Palo Alto. Interestingly, there were three California police chiefs appointed to lead Seattle's department in the early 1970s following a major city government corruption scandal: Charles Gain and Edward Toothman from Oakland and George Tielsch from Santa Monica.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the policing environments in Seattle, Sacramento and East Palo Alto. This table provides key facts about the cities. Get the table here: Download 2010 06 03 Comparative Policing Environ B
Another interesting comparison is to look at major crime trends among the three cities compared to the number of police officers, all on a per capita basis. Annual crime statistics are reported to the FBI each year by police agencies across the United States. The FBI just recently released the 2009 stats for major cities. The stats from smaller cities are released later in the year, but we asked East Palo Alto for their 2009 submission to the FBI. This table shows seven-year trends for Part I crimes, the most serious felony crimes reported to police each year, including homicide, assault, rape, robbery, burglary, auto theft and theft. Get the Part I crime trend table here: Download 2010 06 07 crime and officer charts (2)
What's most interesting about these two tables, in my opinion, are the seven-year trends.
The number of police officers per capita in Seattle and Sacramento has remained relatively unchanged for the entire period. East Palo Alto reduced the number of officers on a per capita basis in the three years between 2006 and in 2008, then jumped back up in 2009. For the entire period, Seattle has had more police officers per capita than either of the other two cities.
Sacramento has sustained a three-year decline in Part I crimes beginning in 2007 and continuing through 2009. Seattle saw a five-year decline in the Part I crime rate, until an increase in 2009, especially in violent crime. The past two years in East Palo Alto saw increases in the crime rate. Seattle has the lowest violent crime rate by far and the highest—staggeringly high—property crime rate. East Palo Alto has a stunningly high violent crime rate and a much lower property crime rate. Because of Seattle's high property crime index, we score the highest overall Part I crime rate of the three cities. So, Seattle has the higher number of police officers and the highest crime rate on a per capita basis.
These facts may or may not be important for the Mayor's decision but they do shed some light on the policing environment in the three cities.