San Diego mayor selects new police chief
Assistant Chief David Nisleit said he will focus on solving the PD’s chronic shortage of officers and boosting community policing to soften racial tensions
By David Garrick
The San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN DIEGO — Mayor Kevin Faulconer has tapped a 30-veteran of the San Diego Police Department to become the city’s next police chief after a national search that began in September.
Assistant Chief David Nisleit, whose father was a longtime San Diego police captain, has risen through the ranks of the department since 1988, including assignments focused on gangs, sex crimes, narcotics and homicide.
Nisleit, whose appointment as chief must be confirmed by the City Council later this month, said Thursday that he will focus on solving the department’s chronic shortage of officers and boosting community policing to soften racial tensions.
"We cast a wide net and we had some great external candidates wanting to come here, but Chief Nisleit was far and beyond the No. 1 choice," Faulconer said during a Thursday morning interview. "People have said they want professionalism, they want transparency and they want somebody who knows San Diego, and Chief Nisleit hits all of those marks."
While some lobbied for an external hire to bring new ideas and leadership strategies to the department, Faulconer said promoting Nisleit will mean a smooth transition from retiring Chief Shelley Zimmerman.
"He's going to be able to jump in with both feet, have the respect of the department, the respect of the officers and the respect of the community, which is of first and foremost importance," the mayor said.
Nisleit, 52, said it is a privilege and honor to be chosen by Faulconer as the next chief.
He said helping the department fill a rash of 200 officer vacancies will be his top priority, adding that he’d like to see the department become more ethnically diverse.
"We need the best and the brightest and we want them to be from this community, from all over the community," he said. "That's going to be a top priority for me. I really want to do a more diverse recruitment."
Large pay raises of at least 25 percent given to officers in December will go a long way toward helping solve the problem, Nisleit said.
The department is also launching a national recruiting campaign, increasing the size of its police academies and offering signing bonuses to officers from other law enforcement agencies.
Nisleit says his goal is to fill the 200 vacancies and bring the department up to full staffing by 2020.
He said the pay package has boosted department morale and that he expects hiring officers with positive attitudes will boost it even further, helping the department recruit even more quality officers.
He said the rash of vacancies was mostly about pay, but that there have been other factors.
“It's a little bit of everything," he said. “Some of it's our competitive pay package, which wasn't there but is there now, and some of it's the very low unemployment rate. Some of it is a little bit of the negative image of law enforcement right now, but we're going to change all that."
Nisleit said he also plans to focus on racial profiling in the wake of a San Diego State University study that found blacks and Hispanics get searched more often after getting pulled over by San Diego police.
"It comes down to training, it comes down to talking about procedural justice, and it comes down to talking about implicit bias of our officers," said Nisleit, noting that San Diego officers receive more training in this area than national standards.
But he said softening racial tensions, which are most pronounced in communities south of Interstate 8, will also require a different approach from officers.
"We are going to work very hard on community relations," he said. "I'm going to really stress to the officers that it’s about getting out of your car, saying ‘hello.’ The officers need to know they're part of the community and the community needs to accept the officers are part of the community."
Mayor Faulconer agreed.
"There is no substitute for face-to-face communication," he said.
Congratulations Chief David Nisleit. Chief Nisleit is an exceptional proven leader who has served our @CityofSanDiego and @SanDiegoPD with honor and dedication for 30 years. I am thrilled he is our next police chief. pic.twitter.com/kEknT8xhtz— Shelley Zimmerman (@ChiefZimmerman) February 1, 2018
Nisleit was among six finalists for the job who answered questions from a panel of community leaders and a separate panel of law enforcement experts last month in sessions closed to the public.
The community leaders represented a wide variety of local organizations, including the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Asian Pacific American Coalition and the Anti-Defamation League.
The law enforcement experts, who were joined on their panel by some of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s top staffers, included San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, La Mesa Police Chief Walt Vasquez and Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams.
Faulconer has been criticized for a lack of transparency during the selection process, particularly his decision not to reveal the names of most of the interview panelists until after the new chief is selected. The candidates also are not being identified.
The mayor’s staff contends revealing the names of panelists before the selection would have made those individuals vulnerable to being lobbied by prospective candidates or special interest groups during the process.
Critics say that’s the whole point — revealing the names of panelists would make the panelists and the mayor listen to public input and be more accountable.
The mayor released the names of every member of both panels on Thursday after announcing his selection of Nisleit.
Nisleit lives in the suburban San Diego community of Sabre Springs with his wife of 27 years, Darlene. The couple has three grown children, including a son, Ryan, who recently joined the Police Department as an officer.
His hobbies include distance running, cycling and golf. He has run 18 marathons, including Boston, New York and Chicago.
Nisleit received a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Redlands.
Chief Zimmerman must retire in March because she’s reached the five-year limit on working after joining the city’s deferred retirement option program. She praised Nisleit as a worthy successor on Thursday.
"He is an exceptional, proven leader who has given his all to our department and city," she said.
Nisleit, who is not part of the deferred retirement option program, said he plans to serve as chief for five or six years, which he called the typical tenure of a big city police chief.
Nisleit’s annual salary is $147,790 and would rise to $205,000 if he is confirmed as chief.
That’s nearly $30,000 higher than Zimmerman’s salary of $176,456, because an analysis the city conducted before launching the national search showed the salary for chief needed to be higher to attract top-level candidates.
Police chief salaries from around the region: Oceanside, $227,958; Chula Vista, $217,183; El Cajon, $197,392; National City, $197,224; Escondido, $194,978; Coronado, $192,168; and Carlsbad, $189,003.
©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune