Chief Jose Lopez will be turning in his badge soon.
In the departure news blitz, City Manager Tom Bonfield all but said Lopez isn’t the kind of leader this community needs at police headquarters. Or for that matter, at the future $80 million building now on the drawing board.
The city manager told Lopez that he could, “retire with notice, resign or be fired.”
Sounds pretty cut and dry. You’re out, Chief.
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Yet Lopez, in his goodbye letter to the department – and even in portions of his press conference last week – gave the impression he thinks he did a terrific job, was very well-liked, and decided wholly on his own to retire.
What a disconnect.
Chief Lopez has a history of saying stuff that doesn’t always strike the ear right when you hear it. Too often, he has used just the wrong words for the moment. And words matter.
For example: last week Lopez told journalists and thus the public that he has no regrets.
Perhaps if he’d been a bit more attuned to this town where crime never leaves the consciousness, he could have said he had regrets about the innocent kids and adults murdered in Durham since he became chief eight years ago, regrets about the inexplicable death of handcuffed Jesus Huerta in the back of a police car at headquarters, or the people killed by police in highly pressurized encounters.
Regret in no way means the chief was responsible for events, but it’s the right emotion to express and to feel. Leader-like.
“Under my watch, people died who shouldn’t have,” Lopez might have said. “That is a burden, and it will always be one. I regret every one of those deaths.”
He could have said: “Our department has been strongly accused of racial bias in policing. I dispute that, but I regret that, too. It is not healthy to be viewed that way.”
He could have said: “Young males have been shooting each other since before I arrived, and it didn’t really let up. Our record of gun violence by some younger black men and teens is deeply distressing, making everyone less safe. I regret that.”
With that dose of reality, Lopez might have talked more credibly about his tenure.
Lopez was disconnected, I think, in stating that police morale might be suffering because, in part, officers are restrained from doing some things, “The United States Constitution allows.”
During his tenure, Chief Lopez was pretty regularly off kilter in tone, in substance, in style. Rarely did his remarks inspire, inform or instill confidence. They often seemed self-serving.
At one point in his press conference, the retiring chief said, and it was snide, that he was sure one or two people on the force might not like him. He also said he was unable to be disparaging, because his contract wouldn’t let him.
So who let him down? Durham, maybe.
In his farewell memo, Lopez wrote in the third line, “After much thought and consideration, I have decided to retire.”
Technically, that’s right. He decided to retire. We should thank him for his effort.
May his last 100 days as chief of police be good for him and good for Durham, too.
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-219-0042.