On Dec. 19, embattled Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia held a fiery afternoon press conference, a single decision that would prompt an unceremonious end to his 2 1/2-year career at the department.
City Manager Ed Zuercher had previously directed the chief not to hold the news conference, and terminated Garcia for insubordination immediately following the meeting.
The chain of events led many to speculate that Garcia had intended to get himself fired, a claim he flatly denied Monday in an interview with the Arizona Republic.
Garcia believes he was let go for airing unflattering information about the city, not for defying an order.
At the December news conference, Garcia touted his accomplishments — leading the department with 600 fewer officers and coming in under budget while the city experienced a continual reduction in crime.
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But the conference took a controversial turn when Garcia addressed the city’s civil service review board and his own critics, with a police-labor group figuring prominently in Garcia’s critique.
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The labor groups held a vote of no confidence in what they hoped would spur his ouster. The move was prompted in part by the suicide of a former officer who had been fired by Garcia for a DUI, despite the chief’s knowledge of the officer’s post-traumatic stress disorder.
The poll was the culmination of years of disputes between the unions and chief, including controversial personnel changes, a new uniform choice, Garcia asking officers to retake their oath of office annually and pushing a pilot program that would have altered officers’ workweek schedule. The workweek changes were never implemented.
In response to public cries for officer accountability, Garcia blasted the city’s civil service review board for what he said were insufficient disciplinary actions for officers that were largely shielded from the public.
Garcia ended the press conference with a demand for a two-year contract saying it was required to protect him from the unions and called for final say over internal disciplinary decisions.
When asked immediately after announcing Garcia’s firing whether the unions have too much power, Zuercher responded that the unions were “not the issue here.”
“The issue here is that the department heads report to the city manager. There are expectations for communication, there are expectations for following directives. That was what failed today and what led to my decision.”
But Garcia on Monday defended his decision to follow through with the press conference and said the information he presented, while unfavorable, was released in the interest of transparency and public safety.
Q: Go over the timeline of the day you were fired. What is the order of command?
A. The order of informing City Hall that we’re going to do a press conference is done from my PIO office to the city hall’s PIO office, which we did. We did it at 12:30 that afternoon. We informed them that we were doing a press conference. We never heard anything back from them in relation to not doing it. The next thing I knew, (The Arizona Republic) and I were doing an interview, and I get a text from Mr. (Milton) Dohoney (Assistant City Manager), saying “are you doing a press conference?” And I said yes, as a matter of fact, I just finished one.
Note: The Arizona Republic and Garcia spoke, about the same issues, immediately prior to the press conference.
And that’s when he ordered me not to do the press conference, and he was coming over to my building to talk to me about it. Which he did. But at that point I already had it all scheduled.
I felt very strongly that this was a public safety issue that I needed to address, and that I needed to get this information out to the citizens. I wanted them to understand that the unions’ goal was to have me terminated. The unions’ goal was to show that the officers did not have confidence in the chief, which clearly failed. They didn’t have the votes. I believed I had every right to make sure the citizens knew that this department was being run correctly, and that the officers did, in fact, support the chief of police.
Q. Is there a timeline in which the chief of police is supposed to give notice to the city manager before giving a press conference?
A. I’ve never been given a timeline for press conferences, never. They just want to be informed of them.
Then-new Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia speaksThen-new Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia speaks as Mayor Greg Stanton looks on at a news conference at City Hall after the SB 1070 ruling last month. Fairness is a key value for enforcing any law, Garcia says. (Photo: Michael Schennum/The Republic)
Then-new Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia speaks Funeral services for Phoenix Officer Daryl Raetz where Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia speaks to the media Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia holds a flag during Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia addresses the press Phoenix police Chief Daniel Garcia (right) talks with Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia leaves without taking City Manager Ed Zuercher leaves the room at City Hall
Q. Was the timeline of that day’s notice to the city manager typical?
A. It wasn’t atypical. Some press conferences are decided in the morning, some of them are planned way in advance. There was nothing atypical about this press conference. I think if you look at the press conference notice…For the city manager’s office not to call me until after I’ve already done the (Arizona Republic interview)… I responded to him right as you left.
I was still obligated to continue forward with the interview process because I had already finished with the Arizona Republic. I felt an obligation to get the information out to the other media outlets on a public-safety information issue.
Q: Why do you believe you were fired?
A: I think I was terminated because I held a press conference that was public-safety oriented. I was trying to be transparent to the community and I felt that this was public-safety information that they needed to have.
I know that Mr. Zuercher said I was terminated for insubordination. I don’t believe that at all. I believe that I was, as I like to term, “terminated in the line of duty.”
I was doing my duty as a police chief, informing the community of a public safety issue — various public safety issues — that the city manager just did not want me to share with the community.
I felt I had every responsibility to defend my work here. I felt that I was also terminated because I talked about the civil service board and some of the actions that they’ve taken in relation to discipline. I think that they’ve done a terrible job.
The city manager, he wanted to gain favor with the unions. I think his position was very clear. He wanted me to be in parity with the union, and the chief’s job is one of leadership, and it is not one of parity with the unions. The chief of police has to have the final authority to make decisions.
Q. Did you have reason to believe that you would be fired if you went through with this?
A. I felt the information that I was giving was fair and factual. The consequences are always there. The fact is that, again, if I was to be terminated for transparency and public trust, I consider that termination in the line of duty.
Q. When you met with Zuercher, what did he say to you?
A. He basically just told me that he was terminating me for my insubordination.
Q. Did you intend that day to get fired?
A. No I did not. One of the things that I offered to the City of Phoenix was an opportunity to do the right thing. And give the chief of police a two-year contract that was going to take me to Dec. 31, 2016. I wanted a reassurance by the City of Phoenix that they were going to support the Chief of Police and my job. This is not an easy job. I’ve been here since May 14, 2012. For 2 1/2 years, I ran this department—three calendar years, if you want to be specific—where we had crime reduction and we came in under budget. And I feel for the city manager to just randomly terminate me, because I held a press conference, that he just didn’t like the information of the topics — I think he was deceiving the citizens of Phoenix. He wasn’t being transparent.
Q. Why didn’t you call off the press conference when Dohoney instructed you not to hold it?
A. I feel very strongly in my police duties, and it would have been unfair for me to withhold that information from the citizens of Phoenix.
I wanted them to know that that had happened, I wanted the citizens of Phoenix to understand on police accountability, I also wanted them to understand where we were and what we accomplished.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. My intention (prior to taking the job as Phoenix police chief) was to retire in 2013. I’m enjoying my time with my family. I love consulting, I love policing and I have a real passion for it.
I’m confident in my work. I’m a good police chief, I understood this job, better than most. For 36 years, I worked myself up to this point. If you know how to do your job, there’s nothing wrong with saying it. That’s the job of a CEO, it’s the job of the chief of police. When you’re in a leadership position, when you’re out there being a leader, it’s about having confidence and doing the right thing.
I’d like to see what other opportunities are available to me. My No. 1 priority was for my family. I wanted their input, and I wanted them to be OK with me coming here. I have no regrets. I enjoyed my time here very much.