Phoenix police chief fired after union strife

PHOENIX (AP) — Embattled Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia was fired Thursday, hours after he held an unauthorized news conference where he said it was “time to silence the critics” and requested a two-year contract from the city.

Unions representing Phoenix police officers sought a vote of no confidence in Garcia last month, alleging the chief had lost credibility with the officers in his charge.

But City Manager Ed Zuercher said the firing was for insubordination.

“This has nothing to do with the vote of no confidence. This issue is about obeying orders,” Zuercher said at an evening news conference. “The chief disobeyed a direct order when he held his news conference today. We cannot expect our officers to follow orders when our chief fails to lead by example.”

Zuercher said Executive Assistant Chief Joe Yahner has agreed to serve as acting chief, effective immediately, and would serve until a permanent replacement is hired.

Yahner was one of five finalists for the job that Garcia got in March 2012.

Garcia served nearly 34 years in the Dallas Police Department and had been an assistant police chief there since 2004 before being hired by Phoenix.

But he struggled for popularity in Arizona, where he led one of the largest police departments in the country with nearly 4,500 employees.

Garcia was heavily criticized after a police officer who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following a drunken driving arrest was fired and then killed himself. Craig Tiger’s 2013 termination under a new “get tough” policy on officer DUIs came a year after he and his partner were involved in the fatal shooting of a man who was threatening people with a bat.

In the wake of Tiger’s suicide, city officials announced last month that Phoenix was creating a task force to consider possible ways to improve Phoenix’s programs to help police officers and other responders afflicted with PTSD.

The union for Phoenix police officers said the Police Department should have done more to help Tiger.

Officials from the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association and the Phoenix Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association said Tiger’s death was symptomatic of a larger pattern of low morale among rank-and-file officers and a culture of “tyrannical” leadership by Garcia.

Disputes stemmed from controversial personnel changes, new uniform requirements, asking officers to re-take their oath of office annually, and pushing a pilot program that would replace officers’ four-day, 10-hour-a-day workweek with a traditional five-day, eight-hour-a-day schedule. The workweek changes were never implemented.

At his news conference Thursday afternoon, Garcia said the unions were harming the city and police officers.

“If I’m to be terminated for upholding the highest policing standards, that will be a first in policing and a disgrace to our city,” he said.

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