OAKLAND -- He's done it before and will likely do it again: Assistant Chief Howard Jordan is expected to take charge of the police department as interim chief after outgoing Chief Anthony Batts departs.
Batts announced Tuesday he'll be leaving the department by Nov. 15, just two years into his three-year contract, citing an overload of bureaucracy that stymied his ability to do the police work for which he was responsible. He leaves behind a department facing a chronic staffing shortage, as well as threats from a judge to place the department under federal control because of its unfinished reforms in the wake of a decade-old corruption case.
Batts' resignation was met with numerous voices in and around City Hall calling for Jordan to take the reins, at least for now.
"(Jordan) knows the city inside and out, and he's been the key figure in the last year or so trying to complete the reform tasks for the federal court. That's really Job One right now," said Councilwoman Pat Kernighan (Grand Lake and Chinatown), chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee.
Jordan declined any comment Wednesday and said he would answer questions Thursday at a news briefing with Mayor Jean Quan.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who first threatened the federal takeover more than a year ago, slammed the Oakland Police Department in September over the slow pace of reforms that OPD promised in a 2003 settlement. The city and OPD will return to his courtroom in January, and several city leaders fear that without strong progress to show the judge, the police department could find itself under federal control.
"We don't have a whole lot of choices here in terms of police chiefs," Kernighan said. "I think bringing in somebody from the outside would be a disaster."
Jordan has headed the department's reform efforts for at least a year.
John Burris and Jim Chanin, the attorneys who sued Oakland and won the reforms, said they're disappointed to see Batts give up on the department, but added that what matters in the case is results, not personalities. Both offered a "wait and see" attitude toward whoever takes over.
Bruce Nye, a member of the advocacy group Make Oakland Better Now, said he hopes to see an insider as interim chief and for the focus to then be on rebuilding the department, rather than immediately seeking out a new permanent chief.
"I heard there could be a national search, and my first reaction was a whole bunch of dollar signs with wings on them, flying out the window. Those searches are not inexpensive," Nye said.
"And under the current state of affairs, who in the world are they going to get? You just lost one of the most respected public safety professionals in the United States because of the environment here," he said, citing the understaffing of the police department and the city's combative dialogue about policing policy.
"We need a long-term interim police chief, whoever the city deems that should be, and then focus on getting things in order."
Replacing the chief will be the job of City Administrator Deanna Santana, whose office was silent on the issue Wednesday.
Jordan ran the department as interim chief for seven months in 2009, after former Chief Wayne Tucker quit and before Batts was hired. In his 23 years in the department, Jordan has filled numerous other roles, including a detective in the Criminal Investigation Division, patrol watch commander and SWAT team member.
He was praised for his leadership of the department after the slayings of four officers in 2009 and was commended for ordering an independent probe into the deaths, resulting in the retirement of one deputy chief and disciplinary action against two commanders on the scene that day.
Jordan was one of the candidates passed over for Batts in 2009. Then-Mayor Ron Dellums said at the time he wanted an outsider at the department helm, and Batts was hired away from his chief's job in Long Beach.
Council President Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) said Tuesday he is "almost certain" Jordan will get the job permanently.
Jordan has a lot of internal support to become permanent chief, although one commander says some rank-and-file officers might not like him. "When you are a chief, you are involved in the disciplining of officers, and, of course, you are going to (make some people mad)," the commander said.
Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said he hopes to see the job go to "someone with a vested interest in the Oakland Police Department, someone who cares about the citizens and the community. This is not another time for someone to see Oakland as a steppingstone for their career."
Staff writer Harry Harris contributed to this report. Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.