New Oakland police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick holds meet-and-greet with residents

OAKLAND (KTVU) -- The city's new police chief Anne Kirkpatrick told a crowd Thursday night, that Oakland can be the "Superbowl champs" of law enforcement.

That could be a lofty goal for a department grappling with staff vacancies and a sweeping misconduct scandal that has prompted federal oversight.

And yet, Kirkpatrick says transformation is possible.

To that end, she spends most evenings out in the community learning about her adopted city.

"I'm averaging about 16 hour days but that's okay," Kirkpatrick said as she arrived at the meeting held at Montera Middle School. "It's all about relationship building."

More than 100 people filled the multi-purpose room and many submitted questions for Oakland's first female police chief, who has officially been on the job just one month.

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"Don't let her sweet Southern accent fool you," Mayor Libby Schaaf told the crowd. "Because this lady is tough and she's good. And you need to be tough in Oakland."

Kirkpatrick is taking over management of the department just as crime in Oakland is dropping. According to recent statistics, shootings and homicides are down 40 percent in four years while home burglaries have declined 60 percent.

Kirkpatrick came from the Chicago Police Department, a city with staggering crime numbers: in 2016, thousands of people shot, and almost 800 killed.

But Kirkpatrick doesn't sugarcoat Oakland's reality.

"When you put it on a per capita basis, Oakland is more violent than Chicago," she told the group.

Historically, residents of the Oakland Hills have complained of inadequate protection from police, who are stretched thin in the high-crime neighborhoods.

As a result, vehicle break-ins, burglaries, and drug-deals, are often left waiting for a response.

"A lot of neighborhoods have actually hired their own security services because they feel that there's a lack of presence in their neighborhoods," said Vice Mayor Annie Campbell-Washington.

Kirkpatrick said she is reviewing how Oakland's 761 officers are deployed, and looking for possible improvement, while she recruits to build a bigger, more diverse force.

"How can we change the very perception by people of color that the police are not our friends?" was one question posed by the audience.

Kirkpatrick answered that police agencies everywhere have to "own" the wounds of the past and make amends in order to restore trust and go forward.

She also said she loves Oakland's reputation as a city of protest, but said she would not tolerate violent demonstrations.

"You cannot come to Oakland and tear up property or hurt someone," she said. "That's not happening."

The chief drew enthusiastic applause when she vowed to change Oakland's image.

"We're going to become known as one of the safest cities in America," she said. "We're going to make a turnaround. And we're going to take our voice back about who Oakland is."

Many in the audience said they liked what they heard.

"She seems very compassionate and she looks like she is a high achiever," said Oakland resident Deborah Hall.

"She sounds like she really wants to bring changes to Oakland and that's really what we need," said Deborah's husband, Jeffrey Hall.

By KTVU reporter Debora Villalon.

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