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Dallas Is Set For A New Police Chief. What's His Record On Protests, Police Violence And Misconduct?

Eddie Garcia in San José PD uniform in front of American flag.
San José Police Department
Eddie Garcia

Dallas’ current police chief Reneé Hall resigned after coming under fire for the department’s response to protests against police brutality. That’s led some to wonder about Dallas' next police chief Eddie Garcia and his record on protests and police violence.

In September, Reneé Hall resigned as Dallas Police Chief after residents and city council members criticized the department for its handling of this summer’s protests against police brutality.

Last week, the city announced her replacement. Former San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia will start in February. When he takes over, he will be the first Latino to lead the department.

Garcia retired from the San Jose Police Department earlier this month, after a tumultuous summer.

In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, hundreds of protesters took to the streets, condemning police brutality and racial injustice.

Like in Dallas and so many other cities, police officers responded with force. They showed up in riot gear, fired rubber bullets and lobbed tear gas cannisters into the crowd.

“What I saw was violence perpetrated on community members, particularly Black and brown youth that were calling for major social change,” said Raj Jayadev with Silicon Valley De-Bug, a community advocacy group. “It was an extreme overuse of force by the police department. I’ve never seen anything like it happen in San Jose.”

In the aftermath, Police Chief Garcia and his department came under fire.

“I think toward the end of his tenure, it was rocky,” said LaDoris Cordell, the former independent police auditor for the City of San Jose. “There were hundreds, if not thousands of complaints that were brought by civilians in San Jose about how police dealt with protestors.”

Police officers stand in a line, blocking a street intersection.
Adhiti Bandlamudi
/
KQED
San Jose Police stand in front of a closed off intersection of the city's downtown area on May 29th, 2020. Hundreds of people marched throughout the city's downtown protesting the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police.

Cordell got to know Garcia just before he became chief, after working his way up through the department for nearly three decades. She says overall, he was a good fit for the position.

“One has to walk a very tricky and fine line to be a police chief in any city,” she said.

That walk includes balancing the demands of the community, a strong police union, city council and the mayor.

“So did Eddie Garcia walk that line? Well, I believe he did...in trying to deal with all of the stakeholders and still bring in needed reform. He couldn’t please everybody, and any chief who thinks he can or has pleased everyone is not a good chief,” she said.

Cordell described Garcia as genuine, and someone who often discusses his own background and identity. He was born in Puerto Rico, raised by a single mother and learned English when he moved to San Jose as a child.

“He’s very upfront about who he is,” Cordell said. “He comes from a humble background. He gets what it is to be a person of color and understanding that there is bigotry and prejudice in the world. He’s not someone who walks around with blinders on..and is not in denial as some leaders in policing are.”

When Garcia was named chief in 2016, the department faced a staffing crisis. Austerity measures and pension reform had led to a mass exodus.

Garcia helped build the department back up, bolstering recruitment efforts — especially in marginalized communities.

“One thing Eddie was instrumental in doing...he gave some officers, some Black officers under him the opportunity to go back to Black schools and do more recruitment to try to recruit Black officers,” said Jethroe Moore, president of the San Jose / Silicon Valley NAACP.

Garcia also implemented some progressive changes, like a mandatory crisis-intervention training, aimed at de-escalating encounters with people experiencing mental health crises. Under his leadership, the department began publishing use-of-force data online.

Garcia partnered with San Jose State University to create a history of policing course for all new officers, which covers everything from policing’s early roots in slave patrols to the deaths of Freddie Gray and Eric Garner.

Some have celebrated these measures, but others wanted to see more substantial, systemic change.

“I think those type of policy decisions were viewed as performative, as cosmetic changes that weren’t going to address the substantive issues that people really cared about,” said Raj Jayadev.

He pointed to the crisis-intervention training as an example.

“That’s actually not what the call was from the community,” he said. “The community [call] was to have non-police responses to crisis calls, not a few hours in a class for officers.”

Garcia’s leadership was called into question this summer, as many were stunned by what they called an excessive use of force.

In one high profile incident, an officer fired a rubber bullet at a community organizer who has helped lead implicit bias trainings for police. He was hit in the groin and needed surgery; doctors said the injury may affect his ability to have children.

Another officer was captured on video taunting protestors and shouting profanities. He was pulled from street duty and his actions are under investigation.

Garcia condemned these incidents, but defended the department’s tactics more broadly. At a press conference soon after the protests, he said officers were responding to an “onslaught of violence directed at them in an unprecedented attempt by some to destroy parts of this city that no San Jose officer has seen before.”

“I’m not defending every single incident that happened in the face of chaos, and we will look into every complaint,” he said. “But the impetus to use that force to begin with was because there must have been an act of violence against a police officer.”

The San Jose Police Department also faced scrutiny in June when racist and anti-Muslim posts surfaced from a private Facebook group linked to current and retired law enforcement officers. Four officers were placed on administrative leave amid an investigation.

“We have no place for this,” Garcia said in a written statement. "While I have no control over what former employees post online, I can voice my outrage after hearing about these comments made online. Any current employee involved with bigoted activity online will promptly be investigated and held accountable to the fullest extent in my power.”

Internal investigations into allegations of excessive force during the protests are still open, leading some, like Jethroe Moore, to question the timing of Garcia’s retirement and transition to Dallas.

“A lot of times when officers are about to face the drumbeat of activities in the police department, they leave and...go to other police departments,” Moore said. “His way of avoiding or not taking responsibility for the misconduct of officers here that happened under his command — he left.”

Garcia has said he was already planning to retire before the protests, and delayed a planned announcement in June because of the civil unrest.

The 50-year-old was nearing the city’s pension cap of $250,000, and told the Mercury News that was one of his reasons for leaving.

He will earn around $240,000 in Dallas, on top of his pension, when he takes over as chief on Feb. 3.

Mallory Falk is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Got a tip? Email Mallory at Mfalk@kera.org. You can follow Mallory on Twitter @MalloryFalk.

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