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San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne Abruptly Retires

Photo by Nicholas McVicker / KPBS

Above: San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne prepares to speak on KPBS's Midday Edition in February 2014.

San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne on Tuesday announced his retirement effective March 3.

San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne on Tuesday announced his retirement effective March 3.

Lansdowne was chief for more than 10 years. His department recently has been rocked with two sexual assault cases where officers were accused of inappropriately touching female suspects in custody.

Mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer said Lansdowne's decision was "his and his alone; I told him I support it." Faulconer said he will make an announcement soon on how the chief will be replaced.

Lt. Kevin Mayer, a police department spokesman, said "no decisions have been made that I am aware of" about who will take over for Lansdowne.

Not long before Lansdowne's retirement was announced, former SDPD Officer Anthony Arevalos had the two most serious counts of sexual battery against him dropped in a case where Arevalos propositioned women being detained on suspicion of DUI in the Gaslamp Quarter.

According to a release from SDPD:

Although Mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer did not ask for the Police Chief to resign, Chief Lansdowne felt it was time to do so. The Chief absolutely supports the new Mayor and believes in his vision and direction for the City.

This was a difficult decision for Chief Lansdowne to make as he considers San Diego his home and truly values the citizens of this city and the employees who work here.

San Diego interim Mayor Todd Gloria said in a statement that Lansdowne's "hallmark calm demeanor helped get the San Diego Police Department and our city through challenging financial cutbacks."

Gloria added:

"(Lansdowne) remains a respected national expert on public safety. I’m grateful for his tremendous contributions to San Diego and wish him well in retirement... The City Council and I stand ready to help the Mayor-Elect ensure the San Diego Police Department has stable leadership and continues to be America's Finest."

Lansdowne spoke with KPBS Midday Edition last week, and was asked whether it was time for him to step down as police chief.

SDPD Chief William Lansdowne is asked on KPBS Midday Edition on Feb. 25, 2014 about his retirement plans.

"I'm an at-will employee, I've always been an at-will employee for 20 years, that decision rests solely with the mayor of the city of San Diego," he said.

"I would certainly abide by his wishes, but it doesn't matter who's the chief of police, there's always going to be misconduct, you wouldn't have an internal affairs system. But I believe we've aggressively taken care of all of the issues that came to the San Diego Police Department in a professional and fair manner."

Gene Iredale, a lawyer who's sued the police department several times, including for violating the Fourth Amendment rights of two African American residents in City Heights, said he's always been impressed with Lansdowne for his sincerity, honesty and attempts to be transparent and responsive.

"I also feel badly for him, because he's had bad luck in a certain sense in that some of the people in his department didn't share his commitment to public service and the values of decency and honesty and treating the public as they should be treated," he said. "Unfortunately, he's paying the price for scandals that occurred during his tenure, and I don't know that he's entirely responsible for them."

Iredale said he does not think a new police chief will "have any magical effect on dealing with problems that may be deeply entrenched in the culture of the institution."

He added that he does not think Faulconer "will propose a candidate for the job who will do a better job than Lansdowne."

Norma Chavez-Peterson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, also applauded Lansdowne for his responsiveness, but renewed the civil rights group's call for an audit of the police department.

"We commend the Chief for his years of service to our city and for his immediate and serious response to recent allegations of officer misconduct and racial profiling. As he retires, we urge the City Council and our new mayor-elect to follow through on the Chief's call for an independent audit of the San Diego Police Department.

Civil rights and civil liberties do not need to be sacrificed in the name of public safety. The San Diego Police Department will be more effective at keeping our city safe when the public knows that officers are held accountable and cannot act with impunity.

The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties is committed to working with City Hall and the Department's new leadership to ensure that our city’s police force serves and protects all San Diegans."

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said in a statement that Lansdowne has had a long and distinguished career. He added:

"He has led the department through one of the most difficult fiscal times in the city's history and enjoyed many years of reduced crime through his leadership and foresight.

"In my 44 years in law enforcement, I have never been associated with anyone who worked harder or gave more of himself than Bill Lansdowne.

"I believe Chief Lansdowne has positioned the San Diego Police Department — one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the country — in a good place, by requesting an outside audit. This will ensure the public's confidence in the fine men and women who work so hard to keep San Diego safe."

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