Oakland Police Commission names new chief candidates, mayor skips public vetting forum

(This article was updated on March 1 with a statement by the Oakland Police Commission.)

The Oakland Police Commission has released a list of four new candidates to replace fired former chief LeRonne Armstrong, but Mayor Sheng Thao said she wouldn’t participate in a planned public forum on Feb. 29 showcasing the potential new hires. 

The list, published on the commission’s website Tuesday evening, is the second attempt by the commission to provide Thao with a group of candidates she finds acceptable. 

On Friday, March 1, the Commission issued the following press release:

After conducting a vigorous national search and hosting several rounds of interviews to properly evaluate candidates for Oakland Police Chief, the Oakland Police Commission on February 29, 2024 unanimously voted to submit a list of four (4) names to the Mayor’s Office, on time and as promised. The Police Commission, as empowered by Oakland residents through Measure LL, acts as the citizen’s voice in the hiring process of our next Police Chief. As Oaklanders, we deeply value integrity, transparency, and the power of community engagement. We believe the public forum held last night provided our fellow Oaklanders with the access and insights they sought when they overwhelmingly voted to approve Measure LL. We look forward to collaborating with the Mayor’s Office and continuing to serve the residents of Oakland.

Oakland Police Commission Statement, March 1

In December, Thao rejected all three original candidates presented by the commission from a list that included Armstrong, whom Thao fired in early 2023. 

Tuesday’s list doesn’t include Armstrong but does contain one name from the commission’s first, rejected attempt: Abdul Pridgen, the former San Leandro police chief who was put on leave last September for allegedly violating department policies and whose last day with his old department was Feb. 20.

The list also includes former Lubbock, Texas Police Chief Floyd Mitchell, Cincinnati Police Department Investigations Bureau Commander Lisa Davis and Louis Molina, New York City’s Assistant Deputy Mayor for Public Safety.

In an email Wednesday, Thao said she “looks forward to receiving the list of finalists and conducting her due diligence in reviewing the candidates.” 

According to the mayor’s office, however, Thao has yet to officially receive a candidate list, which the city charter requires, along with relevant background materials.  

According to the charter, the commission has the responsibility of presenting the mayor with at least three candidates, from which she can either select a new chief or reject in its entirety. 

“Oakland’s City Charter does not require a public forum to select the Oakland police chief. Hosting a public forum is detrimental to attracting the best candidates.”

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao

Thao also sent a letter to the commission saying she won’t participate in its public forum, planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 29 via Zoom, because she believes that publicly vetting applicants is counterproductive.

In addition to lending itself to potential bidding wars with the candidate’s current departments or other potential employers, a public hiring process can scare away qualified applicants, Thao said. 

“Oakland’s City Charter does not require a public forum to select the Oakland police chief. Hosting a public forum is detrimental to attracting the best candidates,” Thao said in her letter to the commission. “I will not participate in the forum for these reasons. Thank you for your continued service. I look forward to receiving a list of Oakland Police Chief finalists from the Oakland Police Commission in March.”

A history of strife and lawsuits

The continued friction between Thao and the Police Commission comes amid ongoing police chief drama that goes back several years. 

Thao fired Armstrong last February after a 30-day suspension, which followed an outside investigation into alleged police misconduct in the department. 

At the time, Thao said she fired the Oakland native after only two years on the job because she lost confidence in him when he made statements that she maintained minimized the seriousness of the investigation’s findings.

Earlier this month, Armstrong sued Thao and the city for wrongful termination. 

Armstrong’s predecessor, Anne Kirkpatrick, was fired by the Oakland Police Commission and then-Mayor Libby Schaaf in 2020 after almost three years on the job.

She subsequently filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit in which she alleged her firing was in retaliation for reporting several instances of police commissioner misconduct, including alleged attempts to use their offices for personal gain, seeking special treatment from the Police Department and inappropriately meddling in the department’s operations, among other things.

The city eventually agreed to settle the case for $1.5 million and Kirkpatrick was hired to lead the New Orleans Police Department last October.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Sept. 11, 2023 that former Oakland police chief Anne Kirkpatrick has been nominated to New Orleans’ new police chief. (@mayorcantrell on X via Bay City News)

Kirkpatrick took over the Oakland Police Department in 2017 after it was embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal in which officers allegedly were involved with the teenage daughter of a police dispatcher, prompting a leadership crisis in which multiple chiefs resigned or were fired over the course of just nine days.

The Oakland Police Commission didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The Commission’s website says all are invited to provide feedback immediately following the forum and no later than, Monday 3/4 by 12 noon, via the post forum survey. Click Here to Access the post forum survey

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