San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Thursday the appointment of the city’s next police chief, David Nisleit.
Nisleit currently serves as assistant chief of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD). He was named chief following a nationwide search that began in September for a leader to fill the role, as current SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman prepares to retire on March 1 due to requirements laid out by the city pension and retirement program known as "DROP."
The mayor’s office said more than 2,000 people participated in six community forums and an online survey over the last few months to help find the new chief of police. Interviews with candidates were conducted last month.
"This is one of the most important decisions I will make as mayor," Faulconer told reporters at a news conference Thursday.
The mayor said Nisleit was the "overwhelming" choice for the position and is everything Faulconer was looking for and more.
"He is a man of character who cares deeply about San Diego, our residents and our officers," Faulconer said.
Nisleit has three decades of service under his belt. His family includes three generations of SDPD officers: Nisleit's father, Randy Nisleit, Nisleit and Nisleit's son, Ryan.
Nisleit said that, as a boy, he watched his father proudly wear the SDPD uniform. Randy's work is what inspired him to join the department in 1988. He can't help but feel emotional when he shows his father how far he's come.
"Currently, now, being named chief of police -- I can't put it into words -- it's just a huge honor," he added. "It's a huge honor to follow my father's footsteps, a man I hugely look up to."
Over his career, Faulconer said Nisleit has led the department's gang unit, SWAT and northern, western and mid-city divisions. He knows the San Diego community inside and out.
"This is not just a job for Chief Nisleit; this is his life," Faulconer said.
Faulconer also said Nisleit has overseen hundreds of investigations and spearheaded the SDPD’s “violence reduction plan” aimed at decreasing violent crime and gun-related offenses. Nisleit has led the planning and operational safety of more than 1,000 special events in the city including high-profile events like San Diego Comic-Con International and the Women’s March.
The soon-to-be chief took the podium following the mayor and outlined some of his goals as the next leader of the police department.
"As a native San Diegan and someone who has dedicated the last 30 years of his life to this city and department, it is both a privilege and an honor to be the next San Diego Police chief," Nisleit said.
Both Nisleit and Faulconer touted Zimmerman for her work as chief over the past four years.
“SDPD is poised to enter a new era of excellence,” said Faulconer.
Zimmerman – the city’s first-ever female police chief – has held the position since March 4, 2014. She replaced retiring Chief William Lansdowne and was appointed as Faulconer took office as mayor of San Diego. She has been with the SDPD since Oct. 21, 1982.
Nisleit said his priorities as chief would include restoring SDPD staffing levels back to "full strength" and keeping crime rates low in San Diego's communities. With full staffing, Nisleit said the department would be able to improve its response times.
Faulconer said Nisleit would oversee a national recruitment campaign to fully staff the SDPD by 2020. Currently, there are more than 200 vacant positions in the department.
Through the community forums held in the search for the next SDPD chief, Nisleit said he learned what San Diegans value most in their police department: increased accountability, continued transparency and commitment to community policing.
"My responsibility as your chief is to find unique ways to continue building upon these values," he said. "You can count on nothing less than my very best."
Zimmerman said Nisleit has her full support as the next chief. But, while many city leaders support his appointment, the search for the police chief has been criticized by some San Diego City Council members, including David Alvarez.
Alvarez said he was concerned that none of the community forums were held in south San Diego, where there is “significant police interaction.”
He is concerned about the SDPD’s staffing shortage.
"I don't have any primary concern with this individual as police chief," Alvarez told NBC 7 during an interview Thursday. "I have a concern over who our next police chief is in general and how they're going to address the issue of departures in record numbers of officers from our police department."
In a statement released Thursday afternoon following Nisleit’s appointment, Alvarez stressed the importance of a transparent confirmation process unlike a series of secret panels conducted during the search process.
“Unlike the secret panels established to conduct the search, the confirmation process for the new Chief must be transparent,” the statement read.
Alvarez expanded on the topic during the interview.
"We don't know what was said in these interviews, who said what and what the responses were, so there's no way to judge that," Alvarez said. "What the people should know is that even though that was a secret process that occurred, we now have an open, public transparent process that will occur with the City Council having the chance to ask questions that I think many of the public has either wanted to know or is interested in knowing what the perspective of the new chief is."
Alvarez went on to say that he's always disagreed with the secret panel process.
Through the confirmation process, though, Alvarez said he'll have a chance to convey questions from his constituents and others in San Diego.
"It is the one opportunity where the public, through their elected representatives -- the city council -- has a chance to make sure that the new chief addresses the concerns that they might have, and to try and understand how he might act as a result of a given situation occurring under his tenure."
A city spokesperson said that panel members were not identified during the chief selection process so as not to compromise the process. The spokesperson also said that although the forums weren’t held in every San Diego neighborhood, all were accessible by public transit or via online participation.
Community faith leader Bishop Cornelius Bowser has been working with the Community Assistance Support Team (CAST), a faith-based organization with efforts in community violence intervention and building bridges between the community and law enforcement.
Bishop Bowser said his first thoughts upon hearing the appointment of Nisleit were that he hopes he doesn't stray from the ideals that he's seen Nisleit embody in the past.
"When we work with him in the community, he most definitely helped us to do some things that really put a dip in crime as far as gang crime and gang violence," Bowser said. "He worked with us in those areas and I really saw him as someone who was thinking outside of the box."
Bowser added that he thinks Nisleit is the right kind of chief that can come in and bring the change that the city and the police department needs.
In Bowser's community circle, the two main concerns surrounding a police chief are racial profiling and gang policing.
"When you have gang unit in the community, they're not there for community-oriented policing. They're there to identify people who they believe, or have a reasonable suspicion, are involved in criminal activity," Bowser said. "But the problem is, how do you profile an individual as a criminal? Is it because he's black or a certain way that he's dressed? People say 'Well, you know how a gang member looks.' How does a gang member look? How does a criminal look? is it because he's black and where's hip-hop clothes? What is it? So that's a big problem in our community, especially among our black and brown youth."
Bowser hopes that the new chief will shift the department's strategy and lean more on community-oriented policing and do away with gang unit patrols.
He is also asking that the city follow through and hold a public hearing and a confirmation hearing, and in between the two he has invited Nisleit to participate in a community forum.
Bowser said he's optimistic on Nisleit's ability to lead the city's police overall, but admitted that "people change."
Nisleit said Thursday he plans to be in tune with issues surrounding racial profiling in neighborhoods where relationships between police officers and citizens might be strained.
He said he will urge his officers to slow down and work on speaking with the public during situations like traffic stops that could quickly escalate.
“Let’s just slow down for a minute and let’s explain why we do what we do – explain our procedures,” Nisleit said.
As for citizens who may think Nisleit is unable to understand the needs of their communities, the soon-to-be chief said that’s not the case.
“Give me a chance,” he said. “I’m going to be a people’s chief. To me, it’s not about skin color. It’s about providing the best public safety we can provide to everybody in this community. That’s going to be my goal; I’m going to do that for everybody – whether you live at the border all the way up to the Wild Animal Park (San Diego Zoo Safari Park).”
"You've gotta be all in; this is a lifestyle. And I know I'm ready for the task," Nisleit added.
NBC 7 reached out to the city to ask about Nisleit's salary. City senior press secretary Greg Block said Nisleit's salary as assistant chief is $147,790 but, as chief, his salary will be set at $205,000.
"At the beginning of the search process, an analysis was conducted to ensure the San Diego police chief’s salary was competitive with others in the region, enabling the city to recruit the best candidates for the position," Block added.