Oakland Police Commission starts over in selecting chief candidates after mayor's rejection

The Oakland Police Commission decided at a special closed session meeting Thursday to start again to find a new list of police chief candidate names to send to the mayor, a day after she rejected their three finalists, which included a man she fired 10 months ago.

"The Oakland Police Commission restarted the hiring process," Commission Chair Marsha Peterson reported out after the meeting.

Peterson said the commission will reopen the open recruitment period on Jan. 1 and the final names will be sent by March 1 for the mayor to review, interview and then possibly hire if she likes the candidates. 

Neither Mayor Sheng Thao nor Peterson would speak in detail about the candidates on the list or what happens next, and did not grant requests for interviews. Peterson tweeted that there would be a "media blackout."

Thao announced on Wednesday she would not consider any of the three candidates on the list the commissioners submitted to her, without explaining why. 

In a followup statement on Thursday, her office said that she and the police commission are "working collaboratively to expedite the next set of candidates for review" and she intends to do it in a "timely manner." 

KTVU first reported the names as: former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, who Thao fired in February over what an outside firm deemed two mishandled Internal Affairs investigations; San Leandro Police Chief Abdul Pridgen, who was placed on leave in September amid some sort of investigation into departmental policy violations that the city wouldn't reveal; and Kevin Hall, who is now the assistant police chief in Tucson, Ariz.

In the first round, a total of 16 candidates applied and it's not completely clear if the commission will look at any of these people again. Interim Chief Darren Allison has been filling in ever since, and has previously stated that he is not interested in the top job. 

The entire process has upset many in the community, some who blame the mayor for not reconsidering Armstrong, who has the support of the NAACP, many of the commissioners, several council members and civil rights attorney John Burris. 

"I'm disappointed that the mayor did not select anyone," Burris said in an interview Thursday. 

Others, like civil rights attorney Jim Chanin, are more upset with the commissioners, who sent the mayor a list of names including a man she had already said she had lost trust in.

"It's in your face," Chanin said, specifically referring to passing Armstrong's name along. "Because everyone knew that the mayor wasn't going to accept Chief Armstrong, and we have to get serious about this. This is a serious selection. We have a lot of crime in Oakland. We can't play political games at the expense of the citizens of Oakland."

Both Chanin and Burris sued OPD more than 20 years ago in the infamous Riders scandal, which prompted police reforms and put the department under federal oversight, which still exists today. 

Chanin and Burris had long hoped this oversight would end years ago, and the department had come close. In fact, in April 2022, both praised Armstrong's work in successfully achieving nearly 50 reforms, which must be completed before OPD can be free of federal monitoring.

But in February, Thao fired Armstrong after an independent firm found that he had mismanaged two Internal Affairs investigations. Back then, Thao said publicly that she had lost trust in Armstrong after his repeated denials that he had done anything wrong and that there were deep problems and cover-ups in the department under his watch. However, in September, a retired judge sided with Armstrong in his legal claim against the city. 

Now, Burris thinks that federal oversight might be extended yet again, as Oakland still lacks a chief who can complete the necessary reforms. 

The selection process is already way behind schedule. The Oakland Police Commission had originally said they wanted the top candidates to undergo final interviews with the mayor in October. 

"So we basically set this process back, which is not a good thing for the department," Burris said. 

While some have questioned who would even want the politically charged job of police chief in Oakland, Burris countered that he believes there are good candidates who would want to come in and turn things around. Armstrong was the 10th Oakland police chief in as many years. 

Burris said he'd prefer the candidate come from Oakland and understand how to work with the federal judge and comply with the reforms, rather than an outsider. 

Burris reiterated that he thinks Armstrong is a good candidate for chief, and he wishes the mayor and him could come to "some kind of agreement" so that they could patch up any differences that they have.

"And so, what happens now with this going on for almost a year now," Burris said, "it looks like that's going to continue on into the future."