OAKLAND, Calif. - Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao has removed former Alameda County Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte from the Oakland Police Commission, the Mayor’s Office has confirmed with KTVU.
The move comes amid a flurry of recent controversies surrounding infighting among commissioners, calls for the body's chair to resign, and protests over the dysfunction of the citizen oversight group charged with taking the lead on hiring a new Police Chief for the city of Oakland.
Harbin-Forte’s official term on the Commission ended on Oct. 16, 2022, and she’s since remained on the Commission in an at-will status at the discretion of the Mayor’s Office.
"Judge Harbin-Forté's seat on the Commission was a holdover position, which she graciously served at the pleasure of the Mayor’s Office," Mayor Thao said in a statement to KTVU. "I will be using the current vacancy to appoint my own person. I thank Judge Harbin-Forté for her service on the Commission."
In an interview with KTVU on Wednesday, Harbin-Forte said she sees here removal from the Commission as a "badge of honor."
"It means that somebody was scared about what we were doing," she told KTVU. "The mayor has been helping to ensure that the control of the Oakland Police Department will stay in the hands of the federal monitor."
She said the mayor is to blame for caving in to those who have questioned her work.
"I think that it's unfortunate that she has chosen to mislead the public, to mislead Oaklanders and buy into the rhetoric of others who don't have the best interest of all Oaklanders at heart," Harbin-Forte said.
Harbin-Forte's status on the Commission was discussed during a meeting with Thao on June 23, according to a letter Thao sent to Harbin-Forte obtained by KTVU. The meeting took place just three days after a rally was held on June 20 on the steps of City Hall calling for her removal – along with the removal of Commission Chair Tyfahra Milele.
The same day of the protest, the Coalition for Police Accountability – a progressive group of police reform advocates – wrote a letter to the City Council, asking for the pair's removal.
Two days later, during a contentious Police Commission meeting, Chair Milele accused the people seeking her removal of a "coordinated attack staged by the colluding members of the [Police Commission], the [Coalition for Police Accountability], and the chair of the selection panel."
Those on the Police Commission are unpaid, volunteers who log roughly 15 hours a week.
City Councilmember Kevin Jenkins told KTVU that it's a "difficult job" and thanked Harbin-Forte for her service.
However, Jenkins acknowledged that in order for the Commission to work, commissioners must see "the bigger picture."
"It’s not about the personalities, it's about improving public safety here in Oakland, and the infighting is definitely troubling because we have one goal: Make Oakland a safer place for residents," he told KTVU.
Harbin-Forte has previously filed an ethics complaint against Jenkins, alleging he had abused his authority in his dealings with Milele. On Wednesday, Milele hung up on a KTVU manager efforting to get her thoughts on the situation.
Jim Chanin, a civil rights attorney who, alongside John Burris, sued Oakland 20 years ago in the Riders corruption scandal which brought about the current phase of federal oversight of the Oakland Police Department. Chanin works hand-in-hand with the Commission and said Harbin-Forte's removal will help streamline the processing of finding a new police chief.
"I’m not going to use this opportunity to bad mouth Judge Harbin-Forte, but she was part of the problem where they seemed to fight all the time," Chanin told KTVU. "You can disagree without being disagreeable, and you can get mad at an issue without getting mad at a person. That’s the way to proceed in an adversary position where some people take one position, and some people take another."
Regina Jackson, a current commissioner and former chair of the Oakland Police Commission, praised Mayor Thao's "bold action that will allow us to focus on work that will help guide us out of [federal oversight] and toward effective police accountability."
"Sustainability and credibility in the Oakland Civilian Oversight structure is the paramount mission at hand," Jackson added. "Thank goodness for checks and balances."
Cathy Leonard, president of the Coalition for Police Accountability, which helped create the commission said, "I commend the mayor for taking the courageous step. We are hopeful that the police commission will get on board with doing the work that they were, that they volunteered to do."
Read the letter Mayor Thao sent to Harbin-Forte in its entirety here: