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San Diego City Council advances Scott Wahl as next SDPD chief

San Diego City Councilmembers voted to confirm Scott Wahl as the next San Diego police chief. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says the vote was not unanimous.

San Diego City Council members voted 8-1 on Monday to confirm Scott Wahl as the city's next chief of police.

The nearly two-and-a-half hour meeting began with Mayor Todd Gloria thanking the retiring police chief, David Nisleit, for his service and praising Wahl for his 26 years of experience within the San Diego Police Department.

Wahl told the council his top priorities would be building trust among his employees and community members, preparing the department for a wave of officer retirements and revamping the department's organizational structure.


"I plan to balance the division of labor and the span of control, particularly with our command staff, which will improve our ability to communicate," Wahl said. "It'll improve our ability to make timely decisions and it will improve our ability to adapt to the needs of each unique community."

Most of the public speakers supported Wahl, saying he shows a willingness to listen. But a handful questioned whether Wahl was capable of addressing long-standing disparities in how SDPD officers treat Black and Latino people versus whites.

"Please know that we are ready to work with our next police chief," said Francine Maxwell, an activist in Southeast San Diego. "But we want you to stop using the progressive buzzwords and roll up your sleeves and ask the tough questions. Those are our tax dollars. These are our Black men that get stopped daily. Our BIPOC community is hungry for building a bridge and (for) 21st century policing."

Councilmember Henry Foster III cast the only vote against Wahl's confirmation. He said the outreach to his constituents during the recruitment process was inadequate, and he said the police department has failed to cooperate with the city's civilian oversight commission.

"I just had a meeting with the Commission on Police Practices, and every single person in that meeting said that the San Diego Police Department does not come to the table and engage and interact appropriately," Foster said. "They do not provide information that is required for (the commissioners) to do their job."


Wahl responded saying he did not want to pass judgment on how the department had interacted with the oversight commission in the past, but that things would be better under his leadership.

"We're going to be there at the table and work together moving forward," Wahl said.

Councilmember Joe LaCava said he had observed Wahl in community meetings and trusted that he would lead the department with integrity.

"You listened to questions, and without being defensive you responded in candor and in honesty," LaCava said. "It immediately struck me you were somebody different."

While Monday's meeting included all nine city council members, they were officially meeting as the "Committee of the Whole." Assuming Wahl passes a second confirmation vote of the city council, he is set to take over as police chief on June 7.

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