Flanked by his command staff, outgoing Chief Jose Lopez faced a barrage of television news cameras and local journalists Wednesday to talk about his unexpected departure.
"More than likely I'll be staying here in the Durham community," said Lopez. "If you thought I'd be gone, that will not be the case."
Lopez says he intended to lead Durham's police force for at least ten years. A meeting with the city manager more than a week ago would alter those plans. Citing low morale, an uptick in violent crime, and the need for new leadership, the city manager gave Lopez the option to decide how he'd like to leave his post. He chose to retire on December 31.
"I don't want to make this a critique of Chief Lopez's performance," explained city manager Tom Bonfield. "My hope is that we will attract a law enforcement professional who can bring some new ideas."
Lopez declined to share his personal opinion about Bonfield's reasons for his removal, saying his agreement with the city has a clause that forbids him from making disparaging remarks. He says if there is low morale within the department, low pay is to blame - not his leadership.
"You're going to find this hard to believe, but there might be one or two individuals who don't like me here," Lopez chided. "But, the fact of the matter is the overall majority, I think, have high morale."
Despite public calls for his removal in recent years, Lopez says his staunchest critics outside the department are an outspoken minority. His public comments on controversial cases have often outraged community activists, but Lopez questions the complaints.
"Have I been misunderstood? No, I think individuals that are making any comments to that end really have an agenda, and I just don't buy into the agendas," added Lopez.
From radio interviews to public forums, Lopez believes he's engaged the community throughout his eight years of service in Durham. Lopez points to growth within the department and the force's accomplishments, including a new forensic unit and a mental health outreach program.
The outgoing chief was firm and direct when defending his department's diversity and his efforts to implement cost-effective crime fighting programs. However, when asked about the legacy he's leaving behind as Durham's longest serving police chief in 40 years, he fought back tears.
"Proud and good police department," an emotional Lopez replied. "It's better than when I found it, and it's the best there is out there."