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Bidding adieu to Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez

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In the end, maybe it was the riot gear that doomed Jose Lopez.

When you think of the Durham police chief—forced into retirement at year's end by City Manager Thomas Bonfield last week—it's hard not to think of those cops, clad for combat in some war-ravaged nation, parading to disperse protesters with teargas in December 2013.

Seventeen-year-old Jesus Huerta had (somehow) managed to fatally shoot himself while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser a month before, or so the story went. Many people were suspicious. Many more were livid and took to the streets. The scene ended with dozens of protesters coughing and hacking, fleeing to escape the teargas. Police said they were throwing rocks. Witnesses said they saw a peaceful protest marred by overeager commandos.

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Huerta's death was the third officer-involved shooting in Durham in 2013. Nine months later, Michael Brown would be shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, prompting a swell of anti-police sentiment across the country. But tension between cops and citizens in Durham was already an unstable compound.

The police were widely criticized in September 2013 when they fired upon and killed a distraught man who appeared to be waving a gun around downtown. An investigation would later determine it was a pellet gun.

That same month, the city, at the behest of Mayor Bill Bell, began an investigation into Lopez's office over allegations of racial profiling, later determining that there was indeed evidence it was happening. Lopez repeatedly denied that such prejudice existed.

Then again, maybe it was simply about numbers. During Lopez's eight years as chief, violent crime in the city seemed to tick inexorably upward. In May, Lopez told the City Council that homicides and aggravated assault were climbing, the former up a staggering 67 percent from the same period a year before.

All of this, according to Councilman Eddie Davis, played a part. "It was a cumulative thing," Davis says.

Davis insists it was Bonfield's decision, not Council's, to force Lopez out. But in recent years, Council members' displeasure with Lopez was palpable.

"I think it's important that we learn from the tenure of Chief Lopez, to learn from his performance and the issues that were raised," Davis adds. "To make sure that we combine that into a set of skills that a new chief needs to have."

Bonfield says the city will be searching for Lopez's replacement while he serves out his remaining time. Davis says he'll be looking for a chief who's an effective leader—a reference to multiple discrimination lawsuits filed in DPD during Lopez's time—and, simply put, a chief who is more responsive to the community.

"There's one thing that I don't think Chief Lopez ever mastered," he says. "In many ways, the chief didn't respond when people asked him to."

But don't cry too much for our soon-to-be-former top cop. As part of the separation agreement released Friday, he'll receive a parting gift of nearly $72,000. The city also promised not to release any of Lopez's personnel records, which means we won't be seeing his performance evaluations anytime soon.

Reach the INDY's Triangulator team at triangulator@indyweek.com.

This article appeared in print with the headline "The year in gay"

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