Oakland Police Commission torn over push to reinstate fired police chief | Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Oakland Police Commission torn over push to reinstate fired police chief

In a dramatic twist of events, the Oakland Police Commission held a town hall to discuss reinstating the fired police chief after several members boycotted the regular meeting.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Oakland leaders appointed to oversee police accountability are now publicly conflicted over the former police chief’s push to be reinstated, as the city seeks a new leader for a police department riddled with scandals.

The Oakland Police Commission has been rife with internal disagreement for months, tasked with recruiting and selecting a police chief to replace LeRonne Armstrong after Mayor Sheng Thao fired him earlier this year. That tension boiled over into a meeting boycott Thursday, after three commissioners — Marsha Peterson, Regina Jackson and alternate Karely Ordaz — said they will not attend commission meetings until commission chair Tyfahra Milele and vice chair David Jordan complete their terms on Oct. 16. 

The three commissioners say they oppose the chair’s handling of the search and any possibility of Armstrong’s reappointment, claiming that Jordan made them feel unsafe. Without their attendance, the commission cannot move forward on multiple actions without having the necessary quorum of members to proceed.

That further stalls the police chief selection process, at a time when tensions are high over sudden increases in petty theft and violent crime — although some residents say they are tired of a political push to blame the mayor for these problems.

Milele said in a press statement ahead of the commission meeting that she knew the three commissioners would boycott, and arranged a town hall designed to gather public opinion on whether the commission should recommend reinstating Armstrong.

“At a time when Oakland is grappling with surging crime, it is deeply troubling to witness a disgruntled minority group of Police Commissioners undermining the mission of the Police Commission with political maneuver this evening,” she said. “This is a continuing pattern by these commissioners to the detriment of the people of Oakland who are demanding both public safety and police reform.”

At the town hall Thursday, some speakers — many of whom referred to themselves as Black Oaklanders — criticized the mayor for firing Armstrong early in her tenure. Resident Frankie Lawson, who said she has worked for Oakland public schools for more than 30 years, said Thao acted too quickly without investigating Armstrong thoroughly. 

Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo spoke during the public comment hour, although in his capacity as a public official he has authority over whoever becomes the police chief once they are hired. He spoke highly of Armstrong and indicated his support for him, saying "The mayor has never been the chief of police.”

But others pointed out that the previous mayor Libby Schaaf also fired multiple police chiefs. The city has been through 11 chiefs in the last two decades, while being under a federal monitor to investigate the police department’s internal corruption during the same period of time.

Resident Desmond Jeffries said that while he admired Armstrong being an embedded member of the community, he disliked that Armstrong blamed the City Council for crime in 2021 by cutting funding for police academies. He asked the commission to find out if Armstrong ever disciplined a police officer named in a January misconduct report.

“This commission is about truth and justice,” Jeffries said. “If we keep continuing this same process, we're going to keep having the same problems.”

Milele reminded the public that the commissioners present could not answer any questions about personnel matters, including hiring processes.

To those who asked to reinstate Armstrong immediately, Milele said, “I just want to clarify, we can’t reinstate him.”

The commission can technically recommend adding Armstrong to the list of candidates for police chief, although this would be directly against Thao’s decision. The mayor recently announced she has no intention to reinstate Armstrong, having based her decision off his behavior when he repeatedly slammed the federal monitor and refused to admit to internal systemic problems. Thao has the final say in selecting a candidate as the new head of Oakland Police Department. 

Milele said Thursday she asked Thao to meet with the commission behind closed doors at the next regular meeting Oct. 12.

The Police Commission’s members are appointed by the City Council and handle oversight over the Oakland Police Department, including managing the recruitment of a new chief. The City Council recently voted to appoint two new residents to fill Milele and Jordan’s seats. The two commissioners this summer filed a lawsuit against the chair of the separate police chief selection panel, Jim Chanin, claiming he had conflicts of interests.

Milele and Jordan also sought reappointment while attacking what they say is a strong influence coming from the local activist group Coalition for Police Accountability, according to a report from local journalist Jaime Omar Yassin.

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Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

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