Just a few days into his new job in late January, Chuck Jordan faced what most CEOs would classify as a crisis situation -- the layoff of 124 of his 808 employees -- or 15.3 percent -- of his employees because of a budget crisis.
It was a rugged beginning to his tenure as Tulsa's new chief of police. But anyone who thought Jordan would blink in the face of that challenge -- continuing to maintain public safety in a city of around 400,000 people with a significant reduction in the number of police officers -- wasn't familiar with his history of dealing with difficult situations.
As trying as the start to his tenure was, Jordan said he easily could have envisioned things being worse.
"Actually, I can, because I went through it in Kosovo," he said, referring to his stint in that war-ravaged nation while on assignment with the U.S. State Department from 2003 to 2005. "That did a lot to prepare me ... We had a lot of the same issues facing the Tulsa Police Department."
As a part of the team that was maintaining security while the country made the transition to a civilian government after the United Nations intervened to restore order, Jordan served as a regional commander for the police force, overseeing 1,200 officers. He said he had a lot of constituencies to please, often with competing interests. And he had to do it with a lot less help once the United Nations began removing its personnel.
"We were constantly doing more with less," he said. "And it was a conflict with 56 different nations represented."
Jordan accepted the job in Kosovo at the behest of a friend, intending to stay only a few months. Instead, he was there for two years.
That period in his life taught him something about learning to deal with limitations.
"I had to make two boxes," he said, describing the philosophy he came to adopt in a nation teeming with centuries-old ethnic conflicts, a place where many members of the opposition carried AK-47s while his officers were armed only with Glocks. "There was one I could control and one I couldn't. If something came along I couldn't control, I had to throw it in that box. Societal issues are not something the police can always successfully manage."
The situation Jordan inherited in Tulsa upon becoming chief wasn't quite that overwhelming, but it was far from ideal. In January, the city's worst budget crisis in decades led newly elected Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. to offer officers the choice between layoffs and a benefits and salary reduction package. Officers voted overwhelmingly against the reductions in pay, meaning 124 of them lost their jobs on Jan. 29 before 35 of them returned to work last week, thanks to the use of a federal grant.
"Chaotic probably describes it better than anything," Jordan said, describing the atmosphere at the department in the first several weeks of his administration. "There were so many dynamics coming into play that negatively impacted police work. My job is to remove those negative factors one by one until we're doing the things we need to do as a police department."
The past couple of weeks have been comparatively less eventful, finally giving Jordan time to survey the state of his department from a broader perspective. He's intent on rebuilding the department, even as he acknowledges the size of the challenge.
"My viewpoint is, we're headed back uphill," he said. "I'm not going to let us slide downhill again. The whole situation is like eating an elephant--you've got to do it one bite at a time."
Jordan's faith in the people who work for him remains strong.
"I trust the resilience of the Tulsa Police Department implicitly," he said.
Finding himself in such a position is not something Jordan regarded as much of a possibility before he was approached by Bartlett earlier this year about taking over as chief.
"I can honestly say that in my 32 years of law enforcement, I never entertained the idea of being the chief of police," he said. "It was not something I strove to do."
The biggest factor in changing his mind, he said, was the realization he had the opportunity to help many people he cared about through what was shaping up to be a rough transition. Jordan will draw a salary of $100,000.
"This is my department," he said. "It's where I grew up. Some of my best friends and biggest heroes work here. And they were floundering. I thought, 'Anything I can do to help bring us out of that, I'm more than happy to do.' "
Jordan began his career with the department in 1969 as a traffic officer before being promoted to investigator and moving to the robbery/homicide division. In 1979, he made sergeant and went back to the patrol division before later returning to robbery/homicide.
"I love the street," he said. "I never thought I could find anything as satisfying as a command position. But later I learned there is some satisfaction in getting something done at a higher level."
Jordan was also a member of the department's first SWAT team in 1978, a unit designed to intervene in situations involving armed suspects. He recalled the formation of that unit as a learning experience for all involved, just as it was in most cities.
"We struggled like everybody else," he said, explaining that the unit's equipment in those days was very basic -- just revolvers and shotguns -- as were many of its techniques.
"I'm very proud to have been part of that initial team," he said, noting that some members of that team are now leaders in the National Tactical Officers Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes training, education and tactical excellence. "I would say it was a threshold moment in my career."
Throughout the course of his time with the department, Jordan has led six different task forces charged with apprehending a variety of offenders. In the early 1990s, he led an armed robbery task force that put a significant dent in the frequency of that activity in Tulsa, driving the reported number of armed robberies from 120 or 130 a month down to 20 or 30.
"I had a lot of good people with me," he said. "We enjoyed a lot of success. I didn't think life could get any better than that."
Jordan said his skills at persuasion allowed him to put together good teams.
"I was never a real great sergeant, but I've always been an outstanding recruiter," he said, smiling.
There have been other exciting moments in his career, as well, but time has put them in perspective, Jordan said.
"I've been involved in seven shootouts," he said. "They were all pretty compelling. But everything has a shelf life. There are things I think about that at the time were very compelling that seem less so now."
Jordan said he still derives a lot of satisfaction from the time he talked an armed man holed up in a house into surrendering without incident, as well as the time his task force apprehended a serial rapist moments before he apparently was preparing to strike again.
Jordan retired from the Tulsa Police Department in 2001. After returning from Kosovo, he joined the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office in 2005, rising to the rank of captain and remaining with that agency until Bartlett picked him to lead the TPD earlier this year.
These days, he faces a new set of challenges. Jordan hopes to leave his mark on the department by implementing a return to community policing in which officers patrol a beat, getting to know a neighborhood and its citizens. Former Tulsa police chief Drew Diamond advocated a return to community policing earlier this year in response to the city's record-setting homicide rate for 2009.
"It does so many things," he said. "It gives officers a sense of pride and commitment. And it gives citizens a sense of pride in the officers and ownership in the police department. It makes citizens part of the future."
He also intends to incorporate technological advancements at every level possible, he said. Jordan is particularly enthusiastic about the role the department's Comparative Statistics program can play.
"The CompStat program gives us instantaneous crime statistics and tells us where to match our forces to target offenders," he said. "But there are still some things we can do technologically with the program to speed up searches."
Jordan acknowledged that many of those technological advancements are pricey.
"But a lot of it is in the budget now," he said. "We're taking it one step at a time and getting the technology we need."
His days of running a task force or driving a police cruiser might be behind him, but Jordan still pictures himself as a working officer, illustrating that point by relating how he had recently pulled over a speeding driver and issued him a verbal warning. The only reason he didn't cite the motorist, he said, was because he had neglected to carry any tickets with him -- an oversight he said he intended to address immediately.
"There are very few things the average person gets to do where you could say I made as much of a difference in the community as a police officer does," he said. "I always got a tremendous amount of satisfaction from that. We're the folks who protect your neighbors and friends from the demons you dream about when you're sleeping.
"It's a very, very important job. There's nothing I could do that would make as great an impact on the community as being a police officer."
Share this article: