Four finalists being considered for top position at Oakland Police Department
on November 16, 2020
The Oakland Police Commission recently announced four finalists under consideration for the role of Oakland’s next chief of police.
The position has remained open since Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf fired Chief Anne Kirkpatrick last February. Kirkpatrick was ousted after the Police Commission lost faith in her leadership and voted to recommend her dismissal.
Susan Manheimer has led the department as interim police chief since March, but she was not named as one of the four finalists for the permanent position. Before coming to Oakland, Manheimer was the police chief in San Mateo for nearly 20 years.
The candidates for the job responded to a job description that called for a law enforcement executive who would “eradicate the Department’s role in racial profiling, implicit bias, and structural racism, thereby helping to dismantle mechanisms of discrimination, oppression, and violence.” It also described a leader who would champion efforts to “defund” aspects of the “overbroad authority and jurisdiction of OPD.”
The new chief will lead 730 sworn officers in a struggle to fight rising homicide numbers. Last week, Oakland homicides topped 100 for the first time in seven years. The last six months have also seen a sharp uptick in assaults with a firearm, with 262 cases representing a 61% increase over the same time period in 2019. Robbery and burglary rates are down 32% and 50%, respectively.
The listed salary range for the job is $239,633 – $306,555 annually. OPD had a budget of $330 million for the fiscal year 2020-21.
LeRonne Armstrong is OPD’s Deputy Chief of Police. In that role, he is the Commanding Officer of the Bureau of Field Operations – East and Commanding Officer of the Special Operations Division.
He has worked for the department since 1999 and has served in patrol, criminal investigation, gang intelligence and youth and school safety.
A West Oakland native, Armstrong recently told the Guardian that growing up, his mother said, “We don’t talk to the police. We don’t expect the police to do anything for us besides take us to jail or potentially kill us.”
In 1985, Armstrong’s teenage brother was shot to death by another student after a fight at school. Officers quickly arrested the suspect, a moment Armstrong pointed to as a turning point in his view of the police.
In his public questionnaire filed as part of the application process, Armstrong wrote that “OPD continues to face a lack of trust within the community.”
He also said a top priority of his would be to bring OPD into full compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). The NSA lays out a series of police reforms that OPD committed to implement after a 2003 high profile police brutality lawsuit called the ‘riders’ case. Since 2003, Oakland’s police chiefs have failed to meet the requirements of the NSA, so the OPD has remained under federal oversight.
Armstrong is married to Drennon Lindsey, another internal candidate being considered.
Jason Lando is currently the Commander of the Narcotics & Vice Unit in the Pittsburgh, PA Bureau of Police. Lando is in his 21st year serving with the department and has been at the rank of commander since 2014.
In his questionnaire, Lando emphasized the importance of alternatives to traditional policing.
“Crime fighting is and always will be important, but there are far more ways to make our neighborhoods safer and to build legitimacy in our profession than by simply taking people to jail,” he wrote. Instead, Lando embraces Procedural Justice, a reform-minded philosophy that emphasizes the importance of respect, neutrality, trustworthiness and communication when officers interact with people.
Lando was also considered for the top job at departments in Arlington, Texas; Milwaukee, Wis; and Waco, Texas. During an Oct. 29, 2020 interview for the Arlington position, Lando told the crowd he thought that reducing police budgets was a bad idea.
“In some places there have been drastic calls to slash police budgets by 25% or even 50%…To me, I think it was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “Let’s provide retraining, let’s change our policies, let’s hold people accountable, but when we just slash budgets and cut officers, we’re really hurting the people we need to be helping the most.”
If hired, Lando may very well take the helm of a department about to face massive budget cuts. After George Floyd’s killing, Oakland’s city council voted to create the Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce, which will present a framework for cutting OPD’s budget by 50% for fiscal year 2021.
On the topic of civilian review boards, Lando told the Arlington audience, “I think that the disciplinary action that’s taken in a matter should rest with the chief of police.”
That may be a point of conflict in Oakland, where the civilian Police Commission has pushed back against OPD discipline decisions, like when officers killed Joshua Pawlick in March 2018.
Drennon Lindsey has been OPD’s Interim Deputy Chief of Police since October 2019. She is assigned to the Bureau of Investigations and is in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division, Crime Analysis Unit, Special Investigative Task Forces and the Crime Lab. Before her promotion to Deputy Chief, Lindsey was an Area Commander responsible for West Oakland.
She has worked for the department since 1998 and has had many assignments over the years, including patrol, community policing, medical, recruiting and criminal investigation.
In a recent conversation with Saint Mary’s College of California, Lindsey explained that she was a “geeky science type” before joining the department. Her family was worried about her choosing a career in law enforcement.
“As the only child in my family and the only granddaughter on my paternal side, it was scary for my family based on past perceptions of the police,” she said.
Lindsey is a long time member of the Oakland Black Officers Association and has been leading OPD’s Racial Disparity Study. The project has examined racism within the department as a workplace. OPD contracted third party Hillard Heintze to investigate racial disparities in how the department disciplined officers. Hillard Heintze found that Black OPD employees “were 37% more likely to have an allegation [of misconduct] against them result in a sustained finding.”
Abdul Pridgen has been the Chief of Police in Seaside, Calif. since 2018.
Pridgen spent the bulk of his career at the Fort Worth, Texas Police Department. He became its first Black assistant chief in 2009. But in 2017, Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald demoted Pridgen. The chief accused Pridgen of leaking body cam footage and a personnel file in a racially charged case in which a white officer brutally arrested a Black family.
In a whistleblower lawsuit he later filed against the city of Fort Worth, Pridgen claimed that he had recommended that the department fire the white officer. But the police chief met his recommendation with hostility, instead opting to suspend the officer temporarily.
Based on his writing style in his questionnaire, Pridgen may bring a literary flair to the job.
“Decades ago, I recognized that police responsibility was much more expansive than the myopic role of enforcer—with some basking in the statistical insignificance of arrests. I believed it more salient and efficacious to resolve the underlying issues, which give rise to criminal behavior rather than the specious end product defined as a crime,” he wrote.
The Oakland Police Commission, a civilian body that oversees OPD, is responsible for shortlisting four finalists and passing the list to Oakland Mayor Schaaf. After publicly presenting these four finalists, Chair Regina Jackson announced that the commission wanted additional time “to complete the reference and background check process.” So the commission hasn’t formally sent a slate of candidates to Mayor Schaaf.
Mayor Schaaf will make the final decision, but there is no timeline yet.
In the meantime, you can hear directly from the candidates themselves. All four spoke at a recent public forum.
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