Tensions are mounting in Oakland over the nearly yearlong selection process that has still not resulted in a satisfactory nominee to be the city's next chief of police. And following the on-duty death of a police officer last week, one city council member is urging the mayor to take decisive action.
A brief summary of what's going on here in case you've missed it: Oakland's last chief of police, LeRonne Armstrong, was fired by newly elected Mayor Sheng Thao last February amid an internal affairs scandal that had occurred on his watch. While Armstrong's culpability in what went down has been the subject of some debate, Thao has maintained that she lost confidence in Armstrong's ability to lead the department — and this latest scandal was another knock against the OPD, which has been under the watch of a federal monitor for over two decades due to previous scandals and a history of police misconduct.
The Oakland Police Commission, which as of the last half decade or so has been legally in charge of the selection process for new police chiefs and responsible for forwarding a slate of recommended candidates to the mayor, has been having its own internal fights — with some commissioners remaining staunch supporters of Armstrong. Last month, the commission forwarded a slate of three candidates to Thao, one of which was Armstrong himself, and the other two may have been total non-starters for Thao.
Thao threatened back in September to declare a state of emergency over the chief-selection process, after seven months had passed with no action. And the emergency declaration would give the mayor the ability to sidestep the police commission and select a new chief herself.
At least, that is what City Councilmember Noel Gallo is now saying, per NBC Bay Area. And following last week's fatal shooting of OPD Officer Tuan Le, Gallo says the time is now for Mayor Thao to step in — otherwise it could be months before a new chief is hired.
Gallo was named as a supporter of Armstrong in this KTVU report from last week, as the mayor announced her rejection of the three-person slate of candidates for chief.
"There is no excuse at any governmental level from the mayor down why we have not made a selection or recommendation to bring someone on board," Gallo said to KTVU last week.
Now, Gallo is reportedly meeting with the mayor today to push for the emergency declaration, though this is sure to spark ire from the police commission. And the commission, which is made up of citizen volunteers and was established by ballot measure in 2016, has not appeared afraid to flex its muscle in the few years of its existence.
The commission claimed its legal authority to fire the last chief before Armstrong, Anne Kirkpatrick, in early 2020 — and Kirkpatrick then successfully sued for wrongful termination, after a firing that appeared political or personally motivated. Kirkpatrick is now chief of police in New Orleans.
And the forwarding of the three-candidate slate that included Armstrong last month was a clear fuck-you to the mayor and some kind of power play on the part of commissioners.
As Bay Area News Group reports, insiders expressed surprise that a high-ranking and respected official within the OPD who expressed interest in the job was not among those nominated by the commission.
Without a state of emergency, the commission now has until March to come up with a new slate of candidates.
"It’s unfortunate that the different organizations within the city government are so fractured that they can’t come to an agreement on what they’re looking for and who should be the police chief," said Dan Siegel, a civil rights attorney who has praised Armstrong's tenure, speaking to Bay Area News Group. Siegel notes that despite Armstrong's qualifications, he reinstatement would be "politically impossible."
Siegel sued the OPD over its treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020.
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