Oakland Mayor Wants to Nix Civilian Police Commission Part in Selecting Police Chief 

Oakland Police officer (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By The Vanguard Staff

OAKLAND, CA – Oakland’s mayor—recently selecting Oakland’s new police chief in a process fraught with political tensions with the city’s police commission—plans to change the city’s charter to prevent the community volunteer commission from helping pick any future police chief, according to a story in the Mercury-News.

Mayor Sheng Thao, who made the final call in selecting Kansas City native Floyd Mitchell as Oakland’s new chief, wants that decision looking ahead to be that of the mayor and city administrator only.

Rashidah Grinage, a local police accountability advocate and commission founder, said the mayor’s move could, as the Mercury-News said, erode public trust that civilians can hold police accountable.

“To take one incident or experience and say, ‘This is a structural problem that needs to be changed’ — that is unwarranted,” Grinage said, referring to Thao’s recent clashes with the commission. “I understand she was frustrated, but there is not sufficient basis to go before voters without a deeper analysis.”

The Mercury-News wrote, “The amendment will need to be approved by the city’s voters, and if successful it would curb one of the most significant responsibilities held by one of the country’s most powerful civilian-led police oversight bodies.”

Thao said the voters may be forced to make a decision in November, adding, “We were mandated to follow this process under the city charter. I didn’t think it was the most effective way to get the new police chief.”

The Mercury-News wrote, “The new ballot initiative would be an amendment to Measure LL, which voters overwhelmingly supported in 2016. Its passage handed unprecedented power over to civilians, giving the commission the ability to both fire the chief with cause and finalize up to four candidates for the mayor to choose from to hire a new one.”

“Voters increased the commission’s power in 2020, under the hope that the group could soon become the primary source of outside accountability for the Oakland Police Department,” added the Mercury-News, noting, “several years and multiple cop scandals later, a federal judge still has yet to free OPD from the oversight of a federal monitor, leaving the commission to work within multiple layers of bureaucracy.”

The commission received criticism for firing Chief Anne Kirkpatrick in 2020 with then-Mayor Libby Schaaf’s approval, said the Mercury-New, adding “tensions have bubbled for a year between commissioners and Thao, beginning with Thao’s decision to fire Chief LeRonne Armstrong.”

Regina Jackson, the longest-serving police commissioner and the current chair emeritus, said in the Mercury-News story, “Oakland has the strongest police commission in the country. It would seem she wants to significantly strip the commission of its powers.”

But the mayor’s chief of staff, Leigh Hanson, said, “It’s important we frame the goals here not as political factions fighting over powers,” noting the measure would “focus the attention and time of our volunteer commissioners on the oversight of policy.” 

The Mercury-News wrote, “Last month, the commission held a public forum featuring Mitchell and three other finalists for the chief job — an event that Thao openly criticized, saying it would compromise the search by discouraging candidates who didn’t want to pursue the job out in the open. But the mayor also could not prevent the forum from taking place.”

Jackson and other commissioners “lambasted the new head of the Community Police Review Agency, which now investigates all complaints against OPD officers, for not yet having developed a clear hiring plan for staff in that office,” wrote the Mercury-News, and the agency’s director, Mac Muir, has the ability to sustain discipline against anyone in the department besides the chief. He also answers to the commission.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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