After an almost year-long search process, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced Deputy Chief LeRonne Armstrong as the next chief of the Oakland Police Department.
Armstrong, a native of West Oakland and a 22-year veteran of the Oakland force, was chosen out of a list of four finalist candidates that included interim Deputy Chief Drennon Lindsey, Pittsburgh Police Commander Jason Lando, and Seaside Police Chief Abdul Pridgen. NBC Bay Area first reported the news and the San Francisco Chronicle corroborated it via their own anonymous sources, prior to Schaaf posting a video announcement alongside Armstrong on Twitter.
"He is of Oakland and for Oakland," Schaaf says. "This department is looking for a mentor, looking for a leader."
Armstrong says one of the police's roles is to make children growing up in a city feel safe, and his own life was impacted by gun violence — he lost an older brother at a young age.
"I'm one of those young people who grew up not feeling safe," Armstrong said. "It's my job now to make sure that we as a police department do our job, but also recognize the important role that the community plays in the solutions to violence."
He is of Oakland and for Oakland. Born + raised, tried + true, and ready to lead as we reimagine public safety and build safety + security in all neighborhoods. It is my honor to announce LeRonne Armstrong as Oakland’s Chief of Police. pic.twitter.com/cobzmoLzX0— Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) February 5, 2021
As KTVU reported, Armstrong also lost a close family friend to gun violence last month. 52-year-old Lashawn Buffin was killed January 16 after her home was riddled with bullets from a group of people gathered nearby. She was an innocent bystander inside her home at the time.
Armstrong takes charge of a department that has been fraught with problems and scandal over the course of decades, and one that remains under federal supervision as a result of one of those — the infamous "Riders" case in 2003.
Civil rights attorney John Burris, who represented plaintiffs in the 2003 case, spoke to NBC Bay Area about the selection of Armstrong saying that picking someone with inside knowledge of the department and local politics is important. "The most important thing is we don’t have to have the learning curve," Burris said. "That is, a new chief coming on having to learn who the employees are, having to learn who he can trust and can't trust. That takes up time. So, it seems to me we have a running start here."
The last chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, was an example of someone plucked from outside the Bay Area whose learning curve was perhaps steep. She lasted three years before being fired last February by the relatively new Oakland Police Commission — in a situation that apparently stemmed both from conflicts between Kirkpatrick and the commissioners, and from Kirkpatrick's decision to exonerate five officers involved in a fatal March 2018 shooting.
Kirkpatrick has since filed a whistleblower lawsuit, claiming that she was fired because she had tried to challenge "corruption and abuse of power" by members of the Police Commission — including apparently trying to get towing tickets fixed and allegedly seeking unlawful access to confidential documents.
Kirkpatrick had been hired out of the Chicago PD, where she worked for the Bureau of Professional Standards, and she had previously served as chief of police in Spokane, WA. She joined the department following several chaotic years that included the resignation-amidst-scandal of Chief Sean Whent in June 2016, and a succession of two more chiefs who were named and then resigned within a week over the surfacing of racist and offensive texts — culminating in Mayor Schaaf saying, "I am here to run a police department, not a frat house."
The OPD is currently embroiled in a fresh, social-media- and Trump-related scandal, this time involving an Instagram account that was created last year that mocked use-of-force policies and posted various offensive inside-joke memes, and a Facebook account belonging to a former Oakland officer who attended Trump's last-ditch rally last month and who believes various Trump-y conspiracy theories. Officers have been called out for allegedly liking and commenting on posts on both accounts — and it's believed that the anonymous Instagram account was created by someone serving in the department.
Former San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer, who has been serving as interim Oakland chief since last March, will be stepping down and her contract was set to expire at the end of this week.
Photo: Oakland Police/Twitter