Time for the Oakland Police Commission to Step Up

Firestorm over Chief’s Temporary Paid Leave

In this hyper-politicized atmosphere, I’m talking Oakland, not the national dysfunction, where the Alameda County Board of Supervisors is still stumbling around hoping to recount the 2022 mayoral contest, it’s not surprising that anything to do with OPD would bloom into a full blown blame game like a weed after rain.

So it seems back in October, the court monitor brought to Mayor Libby Schaaf’s attention that there were some irregularities in the discipline of a popular sargeant who had done some bat shit crazy stuff [my techical terms.] A law firm specializing in these cases investigated. The report that came back was scathing and included analysis that the chief seemed to have skimmed over the issue of Internal Affairs’ less than stellar performance and signed off on it. The report threatened to set back compliance with the NSA, extending oversight in a way that only Bill Murray could appreciate.

At that point the brand new mayor, Sheng Thao, fresh off the plane from DC, did what many believed to be standard procedure by putting the chief on a temporary paid leave so the situation could be further reviewed. In this way, the issues can be objectively studied while Armstrong holds onto his position and the police force continues to operate.

Cue Sturm und Drang

Ok, sorry, I love that German is so expressive and it sounds better than storm and stress. Oakland sighed for a day then launched into full fledged attack mode. Folks who had lost the mayor’s race, council races (one current CM and at least one police commissioner) or repped business interests, not to mention some of Oakland’s more conservative-leaning, older-skewing churches came out in force and held a pep rally, revival, political purging that demanded the monitor-who has the full faith of the judge-be denounced as corrupt, greedy, and sent back where he came from.

It was enthusiastically asserted that he, the monitor, was against Oakland, against our struggling community, and opposed to the Black community who applauds and uplifts its own. But as Darwin Bondgraham at a signing for his and Ali Winston’s new book, The Riders Come Out at Night, asked, “why the push to get rid of the monitor, without the NSA, Oakland police would never have reformed at all.” It’s a conundrum. At one point, Oakland officers killed 12 people a year, most of them Black. Those were the bad old days, they have seriously reformed but always seem to fall short and falling short usually results in death for someone.

But it’s understandable if deeply depressing that one of Oakland’s own, a Black man from West Oakland who made good and whom many believed had the ability to lead our beleagured police department out of the wilderness may seemingly also have clay feet. We’ve had so many chiefs, some of them with real promise, who fell under the wheels of corruption, resistance to change, and police violence. Sean Whent looked to me like one of the best of the bunch, until he wasn’t (I should have known by the time we had the death of Demouria Hogg and no video, no reasonable explanation for his demise on the freeway offramp, then, much later, a settlement.)

https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/09/21/oakland-to-pay-1-2-million-to-family-of-man-killed-by-police/ Police sexual assault, unpunished to this day, and officer suicide finished him off.

Then Kirkpatrick, (I’m ignoring Manheimer who plead ignorance herself on most occasions) after lying about an illegal immigration action she allowed to take place against a local family, shrugged off the murder of a young homeless man, then complained of bias against her. I believe if the mayor had not fired Chief Kirkpatrick but had let the Commission do its job and fire her for cause as there were plenty of them, she might not have got away with that bogus charge.

And we won’t even get into the case of HoJo, Howard Jordan, under whose leadership Oakland made ugly national news beating almost to death a former vet at an Occupy demonstration, then losing 4 officers through lazy hubris after a shoot out in East Oakland. https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Family-s-account-of-Oakland-parolee-who-killed-3167584.php

Phew, yeah, it’s true that what we know of what Chief Armstrong did or did not do seems minor compared to all that; and like a time our foot slipped and bumped the car in front of us, we can’t believe we just did that, we wanna take it back. Come’on LeRonne, you didn’t do that, right? But it may be serious or, well, when you are a police department that repeatedly fails to get to the finish line, no matter how good the start, we can’t believe it, falling short again! Can’t we just nudge the finish line back a bit and call it a day. But we can’t.

The Monitor’s Fault or OPD’s?

Now that the chief and his allies have foolishly taken on the entire federal court by personally blaming the monitor for the department’s failings, there seems little chance that LeRonne can reasonably return. Did he wrongfully put his faith in the viperous PR flack, Sam Singer, who attacks homeless moms and promotes oil companies that eat up the rainforest for a living? Or does he know that there’s something in the confidential reports that won’t reflect well on his actions and he’s just prepping for his lawsuit? Dunno, maybe we’ll find out, maybe not. No one really wanted to be looking for a new chief while we look for a new city administrator and hires for almost every department but here we may be.

What’s next for OPD with or without a new chief? Well, the Oakland Police Commission along with its partner orgs, the Community Police Review Agency and the Inspector General’s Office should have a lot to say about that. It is the only homegrown organization that can actually promote reform in a way that Oaklanders can listen. But did the OPC flub its chance to clear this up back in October? Did they get the necessary info from IAD at the time or did they not get it? Did the chair make sure the other commissioners were abreast of information or not? How about the office of the IG and CPRA? Some of this looks to be on the agenda for this Thursday’s meeting, January 26th so maybe nowwe’ll find out.

Needed Bold Independent Police Commissioners

Whatever happened back in October, going forward the civilian review bodies have to monitor these investigations every step of the way. The city has to dedicate itself to properly staff these agencies in its upcoming budget [Sheng Thao has committed to that]and not be pennywise and pound foolish. But commissioners must see themselves as integral to this weighty task and can never be seen as putting their fingers on the scale despite personal relationships and preferences.

Ultimately, if you decide you want to be on this commission, a commission that has real power to promote and punish, you must be willing to remove yourself from the kinds of affiliations and civic activities that members of the court do. Of course, you have your first amendment rights but showing any signs of partiality could doom not only your deliberations but the possibility of real reform, reform that Oakland can and must believe in.

If Internal Affairs are finally removed from OPD and locals learn to perform oversight without fear or favor in a way that provokes confidence in the process, we can have the police department that makes us all feel safer. No less will do.

One thought on “Time for the Oakland Police Commission to Step Up

  1. Pamela
    Nailed it. After Wellstone tonight, I went to the PC meeting.
    Our job here is just beginning. Groundhog Day indeed.

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