Diaz: 'We'll always remember' Brenton's murder

Diaz: 'We'll always remember' Brenton's murder
SEATTLE -- This Sunday marks one year since Seattle Police Officer Tim Brenton was murdered.

And for the man leading the police department, it's been a year filled with challenge and controversy.

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz is a 30-year veteran of the force, but some never see in a whole career what Diaz has faced in the past year.

On Halloween night 2009, Diaz got the call that made his heart sink. Brenton had been shot and killed on the job. Diaz was in his fifth month as Seattle's interim police chief at the time.

"I think that it will be with every officer in their heart for the rest of the time they are here. I'll never forget going up and meeting Tim's wife and children. And its going to be something that we'll always remember," he said.

A year ago this weekend was the night Brenton died and Officer Britt Sweeney was hurt in that ambush. Diaz says it's an ugly reality he and his department face.

"We have to be cognizant that every situation could be a dangerous one. But we go out there with the idea that the vast majority of the community is working with us. It's a tough situation we are putting our officers in," he said.

Now, almost a year after that tragedy, Diaz is settling into his role as the permanent police chief. Sworn into office in August, he's dealt with a number of crises and controversies.

A string of incidents have made national news, including video of officers kicking a Hispanic man on the ground, one of them using a racial slur. In another incident captured on camera, an officer was seen
punching a teenage girl during a jaywalking stop. And most recently, a Seattle police officer shot a Native American woodcarver, who was holding a knife.

Diaz says he's working hard to regain the public's trust.

"We are continuing to evolve in the type of training we have, and we will continue to ask for input from the community to try and improve everything we do. At the end of the day, it comes down to two people having a conversation. Sometimes they go well, others - they don't. My goal is for them to go well 100 percent of the time," the chief said.

He says fighting crime, reducing fear and building community trust are priorities.

"Some people don't like that I tend to be quiet, but I've learned. You learn a lot more from listening. I'm going on a listening tour to
communities, asking for help," said Diaz.

Diaz says his plan includes cops in neighborhoods, getting to know people better, asking residents for their feedback and focusing on more training. He's Seattle's first minority chief, and says at the top of his list is creating a better relationship with diverse communities.

"I truly believe in this profession. I believe in the honor of this profession, and I can't think of any greater good you can do to actually protect your community. But it is a different view of what some people - not just from Mexico, but other countries - they have a different idea when they come here, that government isn't there to help," he said.

The chief is drawing on his own Mexican heritage to battle stereotypes of corruption.

"One of the biggest issues is trying to get through the issue of culture stitch," he said. "I ran into it in my own family. My parents, until I made captain, spent the first 15 years of my career trying to talk me out of it. They fought stereotypes of their own country. I think that gets played out throughout our community."

He may be soft-spoken, but his passion for the job resonates in his words.