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San Diego city council unanimously approves PD veteran to be next chief

Assistant Chief Scott Wahl is a 26-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department; he will take over as chief in June


San Diego CA - May 13: San Diego Assistant Police Chief Scott Wahl is congratulated by Mayor Todd Gloria, and friends Doug and Taralyn Abts, after the city council confirmed him as San Diego’s next police chief on Monday, May 13, 2024 in San Diego, CA. (K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

K.C. Alfred/TNS

By Lyndsay Winkley
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — San Diego has a new police chief.

On Monday, the City Council unanimously confirmed 26-year department veteran Assistant Chief Scott Wahl, selected by Mayor Todd Gloria in March to be the city’s next top cop. He will replace Chief David Nisleit who is retiring in June.

Shortly before the vote, an emotional Wahl came up to the lectern to thank council members for the opportunity to serve as the city’s 36th police chief.

“I’m committed to being transparent. I’m committed to being held accountable for the words out of my mouth — the actions that I will bring forward to you,” Wahl said. “I won’t let you guys down. I mean that. I care about people, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I’m engaging and available to the community.”

The vote follows an hourslong public interview two weeks ago when council members asked the chief-select more than a dozen questions about topics including officer recruitment and retention, overtime spending, racial disparities in police-stop data and community-oriented policing.

“Assistant Chief Wahl practices the kind of direct, honest communication and engagement we need, realizing that centering the needs of our many diverse communities and their concerns about policing and transparency can also be present while centering the needs of our police officers who go out every day and put their lives on the line,” Councilmember Marti von Wilpert, chair of the city’s Public Safety Committee, said Monday.

More than a dozen community members also voiced their support for the mayor’s pick, noting his history of collaboration with community members and stakeholders across the city. Council President Sean Elo-Rivera noted that while community members who’ve worked with Wahl during his previous assignments clearly hold him in high esteem, fewer speakers from his district, which encompasses communities such as City Heights and Mountain View, were present.

He said he hopes, upon Wahl’s retirement, that council chambers are filled with people who may be distrustful of police now, but “under your leadership ... found that trust.”

“I think there’s an opportunity to do that.”

The assistant chief’s nomination follows a four-month, nationwide search for the city’s next police leader. Launched in November, the search included a series of meetings where residents could voice their thoughts on the department’s next chief, the development of a survey that collected similar information, and several interview panels with community, city and law enforcement leaders.

Upon his swearing in, Wahl will become the third consecutive police chief to ascend from the department’s ranks. He takes over June 7.

Over his decades-long career, Wahl has worked a variety of assignments. He started as a patrol officer in Southern Division, which includes communities such as San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, before becoming a detective in the vice unit. Wahl served as the department spokesperson for three years and was a captain at Northern Division, which encompasses many of the city’s largest beach communities, and the department’s Organizational Support Division. He also helped the department kick-start its Neighborhood Policing Division, which addresses challenges including homelessness.

He currently serves as the assistant chief overseeing special projects and legislative affairs.

“It is no secret that we, collectively, are facing some very challenging times — economically, culturally and politically,” Gloria said Monday. “Assistant Chief Wahl truly gets the issues that are currently at play, and he has the ability to hit the ground running and lead this great department on Day One .”

After council members unanimously approved the mayor’s choice, the room burst into applause.

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