OAKLAND — The chief of the embattled Oakland Police Department abruptly announced a medical retirement Wednesday, hours before a team of consultants — among them former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton — was scheduled to lay out a sweeping crime reduction plan for the state's most violent city.
Chief Howard Jordan’s announcement came one week after a compliance director appointed by a federal judge to oversee significant areas of department operations issued a scathing report that was critical of management.
A U.S. District judge had appointed the compliance director —one step short of a receiver — in December, 10 years into the department’s effort to comply with a civil settlement agreement relating to racial profiling and inappropriate use of force by officers.
In his report, Tom Frazier said department supervisors often failed to intervene in improper officer behavior and failed to thoroughly investigate allegations of officer misconduct. Executive leadership, he added “has permitted members of the organization to believe that the behaviors … are both tolerated and acceptable.”
Jordan had been a member of the force for more than two decades when he took the helm as interim chief in the fall of 2011 — just weeks before Occupy Oakland protests erupted near City Hall and images of officers lobbing tear gas and other projectiles into a largely peaceful crowd made international news.
He was named permanent chief in February 2012. As he moved to discipline officers for improper use of force during Occupy protests and inch forward on compliance with the settlement agreement, Jordan was also forced to contend with a shrinking department.
Budget cuts and attrition have led to a 25% reduction in sworn officers over the last five years and an even greater drop in civilian staff. As crime soared, city officials sought to get ahead of the trend and win community trust that has long been absent in African American and Latino neighborhoods here.
Earlier this year the city hired Massachusetts-based Strategic Policy Partnership — which brought Bratton in as a sub-consultant — to devise a broad crime reduction plan that called for smarter policing and more community input.
The consultants were primed to release that plan with Jordan at a midday Wednesday news conference, which was abruptly canceled after the chief announced he was stepping down.
"I wanted you to be the first to know that this morning I advised City Administrator Deanna Santana that, effective immediately, I am on medical leave and taking steps toward medical retirement,” he wrote in a brief morning letter to Oakland police employees.
"This decision has been difficult but necessary. Through my 24 years of wearing an OPD badge and uniform I have emulated the department's core values: Honesty, Respect and Integrity — values I have observed in all of you. I know that you and the department will carry on these values to generations to come. It has been an honor to serve the city of Oakland with you."
Frazier was given the power by the federal court to recommend the removal of top department leadership but it was not clear Wednesday whether he had pressed for Jordan’s departure.
The president of the Oakland Police Officers Assn. could not be reached for immediate comment but a rank-and-file officer who asked not to be identified said he was “not surprised.”
“My guess is the writing was on the wall to him that if he didn’t retire he was probably going to get fired,” said the officer, adding that the core focus of whoever replaces him will no doubt be to get out from under the federal settlement agreement.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the priority is,” he said.
Santana, the city administrator, and Mayor Jean Quan, who both praised Jordan as the answer to the department’s problems when he was named to the top post, had not commented on his announcement by mid-afternoon.