San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia will retire in December after 28 years on the force, he announced Monday evening.
Serving as the city’s top cop since 2016, Garcia’s move comes as the department faces intense scrutiny and calls for defunding months after the police killing of George Floyd and the department’s response to local protests that followed.
Reflecting on scores of fired rubber rounds, hundreds of deployed officers, 180 arrests and several viral videos, Garcia doubled down on his officers’ use of force during mostly peaceful protests, once calling Officer Jared Yuen, who was filmed licking his lips and verbally provoking protesters, a “good kid.”
But even as San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and others announced hosts of reforms for the department, public backlash continued, especially as more controversies emerged – including racist posts by officers and fresh brutality. Most recently a woman was seen being kicked and dragged by a San Jose police officer outside a McDonald’s.
“I came to San Jose as a young boy from Puerto Rico, learned how to speak English here and ultimately became chief of the 10th largest city in the country,” Garcia said in a statement. “I will forever be grateful to this city and this department. And privileged to have had a front row seat to watch the amazing work of the men and women of this department. These nearly 30 years have been a fantastic ride.”
Opportunity for change
Garcia’s retirement is welcome news to many local activists, including Rev. Jeff Moore, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, who called for his resignation Sunday at a rally to reimagine public safety.
“The way these officers were acting for the last year or so showed they no longer respected him,” Moore said. “Eddie Garcia was a good man, a good person, but the troops were not respecting him and it’s a good time for him to step aside and for this community to search for a new leader — a strong leader — who is going to come in there and put a good structure in place”
Moore said he hopes the public is involved in selecting the next chief.
“Eddie’s time had come because the department was out of hand,” he said, “and it’s time for San Jose to look in a new direction with new leadership that will listen to this community and know that change needs to come now.”
“Eddie Garcia was a good man, a good person, but the troops were not respecting him and it’s a good time for him to step aside. …”Rev. Jeff Moore, San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP
Members of the San Jose City Council responded to the news Monday with praise, highlighting Garcia’s work to grow the same department where he climbed the ranks.
“History will remember Chief Eddie Garcia in the same way I’ve seen him embraced at countless community meetings: as a dynamic, exuberant leader who gave his heart and soul to his hometown,” Liccardo said. “He brought this police department back from the brink, rebuilding our officers’ ranks, their morale, and most importantly, their faith in themselves and their mission.”
A former police officer turned lawmaker, downtown San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez said Garcia’s retirement isn’t a surprise.
“I knew the chief was going to be eligible to retire at the end of this year and I expected he would decide it was time,” said Peralez, who now serves as a reserve officer. “Chief Garcia has led our department through some very difficult rebuilding and I am very appreciative for all the years of service he gave our city. His departure comes at an opportune time allowing us to find someone to lead the department through what will be some of the most significant years of reimagining policing in San Jose.”
Councilmember Johnny Khamis said Garcia was a fantastic chief and is sad to see him leave, calling him a trusted and respected leader.
“He came into a department that needed a lot of help and a lot of reforms, and he was able to be that person,” Khamis said. “He was in charge of a lot of change at the city – things that we could be proud of.”
Councilmember Sergio Jimenez said he admired how Garcia served the department for close to 30 years, giving “literally more than half his life to the city.” He said despite the challenges of the past few months, Garcia has pointed the department in the right direction.”
“He became chief about five years ago during the rise of social media and other sort of avenues or mediums that make his role … quite frankly, a little difficult at times,” Jimenez said. “But I think he’s handled it well. I honestly believe that he leaves this department better than the way he found it. Even though there are some things that we need to repair and fix.”
The San Jose police union recalled how Garcia guided the department through some rough times – including an exodus of police officers following pension reform.
“He was in charge of a lot of change at the city – things that we could be proud of.”Johnny Khamis, San Jose City Council
“Chief Garcia never forgot what it was like to push a patrol car through the streets of San Jose and what a difficult job police officers have in trying to keep our residents and businesses safe,” said Sgt. Paul Kelly, San Jose Police Officers Association president. “We have been able to work collaboratively to start the process of rebuilding our police department after the debilitating Measure B and we have enjoyed a respectful and productive relationship. We will miss Chief Garcia and wish him and his family well in the future.”
As Garcia’s departure joins a growing exodus from police departments nationally, the number of applications for incoming officers has dropped in half from typical rates, according to San Jose Police Officers Association spokesperson Tom Saggua. He said the public’s vilification of law enforcement as a whole due to actions by some who “never should have been a cop in the first place” – including the Minneapolis officers who killed Floyd – has had negative impacts across the country.
“Now every cop is getting painted by the same brush,” Saggau said. “That’s just not fair.”
Reporter Carly Wipf contributed to this story. Contact Katie Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.