By Terry Collins
OAKLAND, Calif. — After less than two years on the job, the chief of Oakland's embattled police department said Wednesday that he is stepping down for medical reasons.
Chief Howard Jordan abruptly told his officers and the city administrator that effective immediately he is on medical leave and taking steps toward medical retirement.
"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 observed in the men and women who worked with me and for me," Jordan said in a statement.
Jordan's resignation came at a crucial time for the city, which continues to deal with one of the nation's worst violent crime rates. He also faced mounting challenges in leading the force after city officials late last year handed authority over the department to a court-appointed director to avert an unprecedented federal takeover.
Jordan, who also served two brief stints as interim chief, did not specify what medical condition caused him to step down. He said his decision was difficult but necessary. He did not appear before the media and did not respond to calls seeking comment from The Associated Press.
The announcement came moments before a scheduled news conference where consultant and former New York and Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton was to present a plan on how Oakland could reduce crime. City officials quickly cancelled the event.
Mayor Jean Quan later told reporters she was "absolutely surprised" by Jordan's announcement. "This is a hard job," she said. "I take Howard at his word. He had to make a decision about his health."
Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana were asked repeatedly whether a highly critical report last week from the court-appointed department overseer had anything to do with Jordan's decision, and they did not answer.
City officials named Assistant Chief Anthony Toribio as acting chief and said they would launch a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank for police chiefs, said, "being the police chief in Oakland may be one of the toughest jobs in the country."
Oakland has "high crime, a police department with a shrinking force in a poor economy, trying to complete a consent decree and working with a compliance director," he added. "To make the changes necessary with such limited resources is a daunting task."
The Oakland Police Officers' Association issued a statement acknowledging the challenges of the job.
"Being police chief in the most violent city in California is beyond stressful," Sgt. Barry Donelan, OPOA president, said in the statement.
"On behalf of all of our police officers, we wish Chief Jordan well and hope he will regain his health in retirement."
Jordan led the department during numerous Occupy protests that attracted international attention and drew criticism of police tactics. He and city leaders would later acknowledge the actions of some officers were inappropriate.
Jordan and city leaders faced criticism by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson for failing to fully implement court-mandated reforms stemming from a decade-old police scandal involving brutality.
The judge warned that the department could be placed in federal receivership if it did not achieve reforms to settle litigation over claims that several rogue officers beat or framed drug suspects in 2000.
Henderson recently named police consultant Thomas Frazier as the department's compliance director to ensure that reforms are implemented. The judge gave Frazier the authority to fire Jordan and his command staff.
In a 59-page report last week, Frazier was highly critical, saying punishment of officers for misconduct was rare. He also criticized the department's top brass.
That report may have been a sign for Jordan, said attorney John Burris, who has been overseeing the brutality lawsuit settlement.
"I think the compliance director's view was you need to have a fresh start and (Jordan) retired voluntarily because he could see the handwriting on the wall," Burris said.
Jordan "wanted to do a good job, but the report spoke volumes about his lack of effectiveness," Burris added.
Jordan previously served as interim chief after Wayne Tucker resigned in 2009. Jordan was at the helm during the deadliest day in Oakland police history when four officers were shot and killed by a parolee after a traffic stop.
Then-Mayor Ron Dellums gave the job to Long Beach police Chief Anthony Batts, who resigned as the Occupy Oakland movement began its encampment outside City Hall. He cited frustration about having limited control over decision-making in the department. Jordan was named interim chief again in October 2011 and sworn in as chief four months later.
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Copyright 2013 Associated Press