Six months into job, Oakland police chief grappling with gun violence

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong on Tuesday in an interview stopped short of rating himself as chief six months into the job, but he gave his officers a 10 on a scale of one to 10.   

Amid anti-police sentiment and a lack of staffing, he said, his officers come in and are committed to doing a good job even in a pandemic.   

Armstrong said he thinks the department has made a lot of progress and that it has a lot more work to do.   "I believe that we've made some changes that I think are really good for the city, good for the department, and reflect positively on this progressive city and department."   

He has the most diverse executive team in the history of the department. He has created liaisons serving Chinatown and the Fruitvale neighborhood and created a violent crime operations center to centralize the crime reduction teams.   

Those teams are the primary enforcement teams for the city, he said.   

Also, the department is having officers focus more so on de-escalation than firearms training, Armstrong said.   

"We want to see outcomes where both officers and community members are safe," he said.   

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The department is using a reality-based training system that puts officers under stress, helps them make decisions, and gives them practice using the least amount of force as possible, according to Armstrong.   

He touted the department's record of zero officer-involved shootings this year, lower than the number in San Francisco and San Jose, even as officers are recovering more than 100 guns a month.   

"That's the way we police," he said.   

Armstrong also touted the department's new strategic plan that was created in six months. The department has not had a new plan in several years, he said.   

But 78 homicides this year are keeping him up at night. As are the brazen robberies in Chinatown.   

"We have a lot more work to do," he said.   

Armstrong said no one had a strategy for policing during a pandemic and there are tremendous lessons that have been learned.   

Police stopped meeting with people most at risk of being involved in violence, a key part of the Ceasefire program in Oakland that helped curb gun violence once before.   

But now police are holding smaller meetings, social distancing, and wearing facial coverings because of COVID-19 while offering vaccinations to people.   

"I remain committed to making Oakland a safe city," Armstrong said, adding that he can't do it alone. "It's going to take a unified approach."   

Armstrong added, "We can't arrest our way out of this. We also can't prevent our way out of it. There needs to be a balanced approach."   

Some have said prevention is the answer to ending violence. Armstrong indicated some people are committed to violence and they need to be held accountable.   

"Community members should not lose hope," Armstrong said.   

"I'm optimistic," he said. "With hard work and dedication and a unified message from this entire city, I think that things can turn around."