Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan announced Wednesday morning that he is stepping down from the department and seeking medical retirement.
The abrupt resignation came moments before a scheduled news conference with Jordan and former New York City and Los Angeles Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, which was quickly canceled. Bratton was set to present a crime reduction plan that was a part of a $250,000 contract that brought in a six-member consultant panel in late January.
In a letter to OPD officers and in a statement posted on the city’s website, Jordan said the decision was “difficult, but necessary.” Jordan did not provide any details on why he was seeking a medical leave.
Assistant Chief Anthony Toribio will become the department’s interim chief in accordance with department policy, said OPD spokeswoman Johnna Watson.
Oakland officials and public safety leaders had mixed reactions about the chief’s sudden departure.
“I wish to thank the chief for his service. Godspeed with whatever medical issue he has,” said District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks, who heard the news from citizen who emailed her this afternoon. “Now we have to get the search going for a chief in the right direction.”
“I think that Howard Jordan has been an excellent police chief—he took over the role in a very difficult time under difficult political decisions and he has done his absolute best to make his department a better department,” said Jim Dexter, chair of the public safety committee for the North Hills Community Association. “To have this situation occur under the confluence of tremendous political pressures, tremendous psychological pressures, is really sad. He deserves and should have had a very comfortable exit from the organization.”
Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who represented plaintiffs in the 2000 “Riders” police abuse lawsuit, which led to the possibility of the OPD being placed in federal receivership and the appointment earlier this year of a compliance director to oversee reforms within the department, said the news wasn’t a complete surprise. “I’m shocked that it happened today, but not shocked that it happened at all,” he said.
Burris referenced a recent report from compliance director Thomas Frazier, which criticized the OPD’s command structure and investigations of alleged officer misconduct. “The compliance director did not have confidence that the chief and the department would be compliant,” Burris said.
Jordan, a 24-year veteran of the department, was sworn in as chief in February, 2012, although he’d been acting as interim chief since former chief Anthony Batts abruptly resigned in October, 2011, during the height of the Occupy Oakland encampment, citing difficulties with the “layers of bureaucracy” in the city. In an exit interview with Oakland North, Batts said Oakland’s bureaucracy prevented him from reacting quickly to crime concerns, since he had to go through so many different committees for approval. He likened the process to asking, “Mother, may I?”
Jordan’s time as chief was heavily shaped by the OPD’s response to the Occupy Oakland protests. Both Jordan and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan came under national public scrutiny after the famous police raid on the first Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza on October 25, 2011, which led to several violent clashes between police and protesters over the coming months, including one later that evening and one following an attempt to shut down the Port of Oakland that November.
The city ultimately ordered an independent investigation of the police response to the Occupy protests, which was led by Thomas Frazier, the same police consultant who was later named the city’s compliance director. In response to the criticism over its handling of Occupy protests, the department also changed its crowd control policies.
Jordan took over at a time when OPD was at its lowest staffing levels, with only 604 sworn officers. During Jordan’s tenure, the department began boosting its number of officers by training and hiring new recruits for the first time in years, a process that has continued throughout 2013.
Jordan also supported the return of Operation Ceasefire, a nationally-known violence reduction program in which gun violence offenders are given the opportunity to change their behavior and receive community aid and access to social services. People who continued to offend were arrested as part of several massive gang sweeps this spring.
But Jordan and his department also faced criticism over the handling of the officer-involved shooting death of 18-year-old Skyline High School student Alan Blueford. Under intense public pressure, the department eventually released redacted documents detailing the shooting, which a report by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office later concluded was justified.
During Jordan’s term the OPD also wrestled with many questions relating to the 2000 Riders case. After 13 years, the department still has not completed all of the reforms mandated under the related Negotiated Settlement Agreement. The department has been threatened with federal receivership if it does not complete the reforms, which would make the OPD the first major police department to be placed under court control. The city has argued against being placed in receivership, and in 2012 city officials suggested that Federal District Judge Thelton Henderson instead appoint a compliance director to oversee the department. This March, Henderson appointed Frazier to the position.
The city also hired the Strategic Policy Partnership, a police consulting company headed by ex-LAPD chief Bill Bratton, to advise Oakland officials on reducing crime. Bratton’s first report was expected to be announced today, but this was put on hold due to Jordan’s surprise announcement.
Oakland North will continue to follow this story and update this post as new information becomes available.