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Retired Modesto police chief will serve as interim Manteca chief

Retired Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden will serve as Manteca’s interim police chief.

Harden’s first day on the job will be Monday.

Harden’s appointment by City Manager Miranda Lutzow was announced Wednesday.

The decision to hire Harden as interim police chief was forced by California Public Employment Retirement System (PERS) rule that bars beneficiaries from working out of their classification for more than six months.

Captain Mike Aguilar has been serving in the position as acting police chief since Jodie Estarziau was abruptly placed on paid administrative leave in mid-November.

Lutzow praised Aguilar’s job performance as the acting police chief.

The city manager said the permanent police chief’s job will be filled with the help of a community-based committee providing input for the position that is arguably the most high profile in municipal government given how police interact with the community.

Lutzow stressed that the search to find a police chief won’t be rushed to make sure there is a strong community input.

Typically retired PERS beneficiaries such as Harden are limited to working 6 months in any given 12-month period. Due to the pandemic, PERS has suspended that restriction. As such, the city won’t be hemmed in by a six-month time constraint to search for a new police chief.

Estarziau was placed on paid administrative leave after the city received five pages of concerns related to how the department was being operated. The letter, unsigned, was written in such a manner that it was worded as if it were penned by a rank-and-file officer.

The city retained an outside investigator after Estarziau was placed on leave.

Due to state law restrictions dealing with personnel, the city could only confirm that Estarziau is no longer with the city when it came to her employment status.

There was no additional payment paid on her departure other than accrued vacation and other time off.  Estarziau was receiving a regular paycheck and benefits during the administrative leave. Based on her 2019 salary and if the paid leave went for 8 months before the city and police chief parted ways, Estarziau’s salary and benefits would have come to $152,084 for the period she was paid for not working.

“We wish Ms. Estarziau well on her future endeavors in service to the public,” said City Manager Lutzow. “Public safety remains our top priority for the City of Manteca, and we look forward to initiating a transparent, community-driven process to search for the perfect fit for our next Chief of Police.”

Harden grew up in Modesto and attended public schools. In high school e joined the Modesto Police Department Explorer Program and was hired a police officer in 1983. He served as a patrol officer, Special Investigations/Vice Officer, Homicide Sergeant, Training Unit Lieutenant, Patrol Watch Commander, Operations Division Captain,  Assistant Police Chief and then retired in 2012 as the Chief of Police after nearly 30 years of service. Since retirement Harden has assisted the cities of Escalon, Oakdale, and Sonora police departments as an interim police chief, and the City of Hughson as an interim city manager.

Harden earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Administration, attended the WestPoint Leadership program at the Los Angeles Police Department, graduated from the FBI National Academy in Virginia and completed the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training Command College as well as many other management, leadership and accountability courses.