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Public Safety

City Council unanimously confirms Scott Wahl as SDPD Police Chief

Newly appointed San Diego Police Chief Scott Wahl (center) speaks at a press conference alongside San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria (left) on March 21, 2024.
Matthew Bowler
/
KPBS
Newly appointed San Diego Police Chief Scott Wahl (center) speaks at a press conference alongside San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria (left) on March 21, 2024.

The San Diego City Council unanimously approved San Diego Police Department Assistant Chief Scott Wahl as its next police chief today.

Wahl will take over the position from the retiring Chief David Nisleit on June 7.

"I'll just be honest with you, I'm full of emotion today," Wahl said before the final vote approving the SDPD veteran for the department's top position. "I'm committed to being transparent, committed to being accountable for the words that come out of my mouth and the actions I take every single day. Thank you very much for this opportunity."

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Wahl, who has served as a patrolman in SDPD's Southern Division and as a captain in the Northern Division in his 25-year career, was announced in March as Mayor Todd Gloria's pick to succeed Nisleit, who is retiring after 36 years of service — including six as chief of police.

"With his wealth of experience, demonstrated commitment to protecting and serving our communities and his forward-thinking vision for our police department, Scott Wahl is the right person to lead the San Diego Police Department in its mission to keep all San Diego residents safe," Gloria said. "Assistant Chief Wahl is a man of great integrity and exceptional experience, and he will serve our community with distinction and honor."

Gloria nominated Wahl from a pool of 56 candidates "following an extensive national search and interview process that included vetting by community and law enforcement leaders," according to the mayor's office.

On April 29, the City Council, serving as the Committee of the Whole, voted 8-1 in favor of moving Assistant Chief Wahl forward in the process, leading to Monday's final confirmation vote.

The single no vote at that April meeting was from the newly elected Councilman Henry Foster III, who said Monday he was still concerned with the lack of transparency of the cost of a national search. He said after his comments at the Committee of the Whole, Wahl made appointments with him and allayed some of his fears regarding accountability for an understaffed department.

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Councilwoman Vivian Moreno said she respected Wahl from his time in the Southern Division working with diverse groups of people.

"You are experienced and you know San Diego. It is critically important for you to step into this role and know what you are walking into," she said, stressing that the SDPD continues to struggle with a fully staffed department. "We need to beef up community policing, so they can be in the community regularly but also so they can be aware of issues as they come up."

Councilman Stephen Whitburn said Wahl was a choice the LGBTQ community of the city could have faith in.

Wahl said he liked the manner in which SDPD officers work with community, city and nonprofit programs to connect to city residents, but wanted to be able to organize that decentralized approach into one command structure.

It has been a challenge to integrate with community groups at a high, reliable standard throughout the city, he said.

Additionally, Wahl said he was particularly interested in looking for alternatives to incarceration, particularly for youth.

Wahl served as department spokesperson for three years, "boosting transparency and giving a voice to police initiatives in the community," according to Gloria's office. When Wahl was captain of SDPD's Northern Division, he worked with community groups to reduce gun violence and residential burglaries, the city reported.

"Chief Wahl brings a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of our community to his role as the new leader of the San Diego Police Department," said Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert. "As chair of Public Safety Committee, I am excited to continue working with Chief Wahl, our San Diego Police Department, and all of our first responders to help keep San Diego the safest big city in the country."

Wahl is the son of a San Diego police officer. He and his wife Stephanie have four children.

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