Oakland mayor says she'll announce new police chief 'literally within a number of days'

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told KTVU on Tuesday that she plans to announce a new police chief "literally within a number of days." 

That person will be the 13th chief since 1993. The last chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, was fired by the Oakland Police Commission nearly a year ago, and Interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer has been filling in ever since. 

On the shortlist for the new chief are: Deputy Chief Leronne Armstrong, his wife, interim Deputy Chief Drennon Lindsey; Pittsburgh Police Commander Jason Lando; and Seaside Police Chief Abdul Pridgen. 

Last Friday, Schaaf convened a panel of experts, including civil rights attorney John Burris and Stanford University social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt, among others, to help interview the finalists.

"I want to commend the commission for sending me four excellent candidates," she said. 

The news can't come too soon for many residents. 

There were 15 homicides last month, the most in Oakland for a January in 20 years. There was just one homicide in January of 2020. 

The Oakland police union is partially blaming the defunding police movement for the rise in homicides.

The union says the city has disbanded several police units, including the homeless detail, traffic enforcement, all bicycle and foot patrols, and community resource teams.

This comes as the city has been dealing with the fiscal fallout of the pandemic. Oakland was forced to cut millions of dollars from budgets to deal with a $62-million deficit.

Schaaf said that locally, violent crime is up largely because its nationally recognized program, Ceasefire, where organizers meet in person with at-risk youth and others who might be prone to commit criminal acts, has largely been on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.

She noted that Oakland is not unique in seeing a rise in crime, either. 

Killings rose dramatically across the U.S. last year, and a study released on Monday by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, along with the Houston-based philanthropic organization Arnold Ventures, looked at crime rates in 34 cities of varying sizes. It found a 30% spike in homicides in 2020 compared to 2019. Study leaders called for urgent action to improve police-community relations and expand anti-violence initiatives.

Richard Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist and one of the study’s lead authors, said officers around the country were forced off the streets and into quarantine due to either contracting COVID-19 or to avoid being exposed by colleagues. Even when on the job, social distancing requirements kept officers from interacting closely with the community, he said.

"That really reduced the ability of law officers to engage in the kinds of proactive policing that can reduce crime," Rosenfeld said in an interview.

Rosenfeld’s home city was among those studied, and among the most violent. St. Louis recorded 262 killings last year, the most since 267 in 1993, when the city’s population was substantially higher.

St. Louis was far from alone. Homicides rose in 29 of the 34 cities studied. Killings more than doubled in Chula Vista, California, and Chandler, Arizona.

Larger cities were hit hard, too: Milwaukee’s homicides rose 85%, Seattle saw a 63% increase, Chicago killings jumped 55% and New York City saw a 43% increase.

The study found that the pandemic "has disproportionately affected vulnerable populations, placing at-risk individuals under additional physical, mental, emotional, and financial stress."

The virus also strained police, courts, hospitals and other entities tasked with responding to violence, and hampered violence reduction outreach efforts, the study found.

Homicide rates in 2020 topped 2019 levels during every month, but the increase was steepest after massive protests spurred by George Floyd's death in Minneapolis on May 25. The study found that in June through August, homicides rose 37% compared to 2019.

The study noted that despite the spike in killings, homicide rates in the U.S. have dropped sharply over the past quarter of a century. The overall homicide rate for the 34 cities study was 11.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2020, compared to 19.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in 1995.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.