Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Public Safety

San Diego’s New Police Chief: How We Got Here

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announces David Nisleit as the city's new police chief, Feb. 1, 2018.
Jade Hindmon
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announces David Nisleit as the city's new police chief, Feb. 1, 2018.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his pick for the city’s next police chief Thursday. Following confirmation from City Council, Assistant Chief David Nisleit would replace Chief Shelley Zimmerman in March.

"SDPD is poised to enter a new era of excellence," Faulconer said during the announcement.

That new era comes after one in which the department grappled with concerns over officer misconduct, racial profiling and the recruitment process itself. Below is a look at some of the news leading up to Nisleit’s hiring, and the issues the 35-year veteran will inherit as head of the San Diego Police Department.


October 2010: A Rash Of Police Misconduct Cases

Some fifteen officer misconduct cases garnered media attention beginning in late 2010 and continuing through 2011. They ranged from driving while intoxicated to a series of sexual assaults by former officer Anthony Arevalos. Arevalos was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2011 and released less than five years later in 2016. The rash of misconduct cases prompted a federal investigation into the department in 2014. It found systemic issues, including a problem tracking complaints and too few lieutenants to mentor officers.

How Nisleit Got Here

1994: Promoted from field officer to SWAT unit

1996: Promoted to sergeant and assigned to Mid-City Division and SWAT

2003: Promoted to detective sergeant and assigned to Narcotic Team 10, Sex Crimes and Internal Affairs

2008: Promoted to lieutenant and assigned to Northern Division, Field Lieutenant, Mid-City Division, SWAT, Special Events and Gangs

2013: Promoted to the rank of captain and assigned to Western Division, Mid-City Division and Investigations II, covering robbery, gangs and homicide

2014: Graduated from the FBI National Academy

2016: Promoted to assistant chief

RELATED: Chief Lansdowne Apologizes For Police Misconduct

RELATED: Report: Lapses In Supervision, Accountability Led to SDPD Misconduct Cases

RELATED: San Diego Police Chief Promises More Diverse Force, More Supervision

January 2014: Racial Profiling Concerns Enter The Public Discourse

An investigation by KPBS and Voice of San Diego found the department wasn’t following its policy to collect racial profiling data. The story set off a wave of conversation about policing in communities of color, with many black and Latino San Diegans saying they believed they were searched and pulled over without cause. Then-Chief William Lansdowne recommended the department adopt police body cameras to ease public mistrust.


RELATED: San Diego Has Fallen Behind On Combating Police Racial Profiling

February 2014: Lansdowne Steps Down; San Diego Hires One Of Its Own

Lansdowne abruptly retired after 10 years as police chief. Then the mayor-elect, Faulconer appointed Shelley Zimmerman, a 31-year veteran of the department, to the job. The decision faced criticism from citizens and elected officials, who said the city should have conducted a national search for the next chief.

RELATED: Shelley Zimmerman To Replace William Lansdowne As San Diego Police Chief

February 2015: City Council, Zimmerman Take Steps To Quell Public Mistrust

Following a year of speaking out about alleged police racial profiling, and fuelled by nationwide unrest over the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, then-Councilwoman Marti Emerald called for an outside audit of the department’s traffic stops. Zimmerman also works to increase transparency through community conversations and trainings on implicit bias.

RELATED: San Diego Police: ‘We Do Our Very Best To Reach Everyone’

RELATED: New Police Captain Says He’s Going ‘Home’ To Mid City

June 2016: Nisleit Rises To Prominence For Handling Of Attacks On The Homeless

Nisleit, who oversaw the homicide division as assistant chief, became the face of an investigation that rocked San Diego for weeks. Jon David Guerrero was charged with brutally attacking 12 homeless San Diegans, lighting several on fire and murdering four of them. In addition to heading the investigation, Nisleit — not Zimmerman — faced the press with equanimity, despite an ongoing threat to the homeless and the early arrest of a man who turned out not to be the killer. During his time as captain of the Mid City Division, Nisleit also handled a high-profile spate of attacks on women in the North Park area. A judge sentenced David Angelo Drake II to 57 years in prison.

RELATED: San Diego Homeless Worried After Series Of Assaults

RELATED: Man Arrested, Charged In Series Of Attacks On Women In North Park

November 2016: Report Finds Cops Treated Black, Latino Drivers Differently

The external audit requested by Emerald found black and Latino drivers were more likely to be search than their white counterparts if pulled over by San Diego police. The department had already implemented several of the report’s recommendations, including training on non-bias based policing, procedural justice and emotional intelligence. A state law by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber called on the department and others in the state to continue collecting racial profiling data.

RELATED: Council Members, Community Hope Real Change Will Come After SDPD Report

September 2017: Community Concerned About Chief Recruiting Process

As the city looked to find a replacement for Zimmerman, who had to retire as part of a deferred retirement plan, community members expressed concern the process the city selected would not be transparent enough. The hiring panel and the candidates would not be named, and the panel would do its work in private after a series of community forums. Groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego, called for the candidates to be made public and for the public to get to ask questions. Ultimately, the candidates remained confidential but the hiring panel opened the process up to more community representatives.

RELATED: City, Community Groups Spar Over Best Way To Find New Police Chief

RELATED: City Adds Forums For Police Chief Search But Critics Not Satisfied

October 2017: City Approves Cop Raises To Address Yearslong Hire Problems

The City Council approved 8.5 percent raises for officers this year and next, as well as a 5 percent raise in 2020. The deal comes after years of hemorrhaging close to 10 officers a month due to low pay and retirement.

RELATED: San Diego Police Staffing Problem Growing Worse

RELATED: San Diego Police Salary Boost Agreement To Go Before City Council

February 2017: San Diego, Again, Hires One Of Its Own

Faulconer names Nisleit the next chief. See reaction here.

San Diego’s New Police Chief: How We Got Here
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his pick for the city’s next police chief Thursday. Following confirmation from City Council, Assistant Chief David Nisleit would replace Chief Shelley Zimmerman in March.

Corrected: July 14, 2024 at 9:54 AM PDT
Tarryn Mento contributed to this report.
KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.