David Nisleit
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Veteran local lawman David Nisleit’s appointment as San Diego’s next police chief was unanimously confirmed Monday by the City Council.

Nisleit, 52, was selected by Faulconer earlier this month as the successor to Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who is set to retire in March 1. The council vote came after hours of largely positive public testimony and questions by members, who pressed Nisleit for specifics about his plans to retain and hire officers, address racial bias, bolster community policing and promote restorative justice programs.

“I want you to know I’ve been listening and I’ve been taking everything in,” he said of his conversations in recent weeks. “I think it’s very important as police chief to be open and transparent.”

Nisleit, who’s been with the SDPD for three decades, is set to take over on March 2.

He said he’s confident that a new retention and recruitment plan will help the department get back to full staffing for the first time in a decade, largely with officers from San Diego who are dedicated to serving their own community. In an aim to build community trust, he said he plans to make public data regarding race and traffic stops. Nisleit said he also hopes to expand the department’s homeless outreach team.

Nisleit has served in the department’s gang, robbery, narcotics, homicide, sex crimes, SWAT, internal affairs and special operations units.

While conducting a nationwide search for Zimmerman’s successor, city officials solicited input from the public during a half-dozen meetings and received about 2,000 online surveys from residents. Faulconer also sought the input of advisory boards of community leaders and city executives.

The names of the half-dozen finalists interviewed by those boards will not be made public due to privacy considerations, according to Faulconer’s office.

Nisleit was the overwhelming choice of those boards, city officials said.

“This is a time to really move San Diego forward,” said Norma Chavez- Peterson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

The ACLU did not have a public stance on Nisleit’s fitness for the role of top cop. But like other residents who struck a more critical tone during the two City Council hearings, Chavez-Peterson took the opportunity to urge the council to press Nisleit for specifics during a fresh chapter in the San Diego Police Department.

And on Monday, they did just that.

Regarding his plans for internal promotions, Nisleit conceded that the department needs to do better informing community leaders about changes in leadership within neighborhood divisions. He said he will need to promote two captains and two assistant chiefs on his first day and that his goal is to achieve stability in the department’s higher ranks in order to help commanders build relationships with their communities.

“That takes time to build and every time we rotate (assignments), that starts all over again,” he said.

Nisleit said he plans to deal with use-of-force complaints on a case- by-case basis in conjunction with the internal affairs division and the several civilian advisory boards that review the department.

Asked if he would be open to creating restorative justice programs, Nisleit said he has already spoken to the city attorney about the viability of such initiatives and will continue to look into them.

“My short answer is yes,” he said. “I’m a big fan of restorative justice, especially for first-time offenders and low-level crimes.”

Nisleit currently makes $147,790. His salary as chief will be $205,000, according to reports.

— City News Service