After Long Search, Oakland Naming New Police Chief

Updated Wednesday, 1:25 p.m.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has chosen Anne E. Kirkpatrick, a veteran leader of police departments in the Pacific Northwest who is currently serving in Chicago, to lead the Oakland Police Department. She is the first woman to hold the post.

Schaaf introduced Kirkpatrick at a noon press conference Wednesday, confirming news that first broke Tuesday night in a broadcast report in Chicago.

"We were not looking for a man or a woman, but someone who would deliver leadership," Schaaf said, "someone who would hold the department accountable."

Anne E. Kirkpatrick, Mayor Libby Schaaf's choice to lead the Oakland Police Department.
Anne E. Kirkpatrick, Mayor Libby Schaaf's choice to lead the Oakland Police Department. (Chicago Police Department)

Kirkpatrick is taking a job left vacant after the abrupt resignation of Chief Sean Whent in June and an abortive and embarrassing attempt to identify a local candidate to fill the position. Whent left amid a rapidly spreading scandal centered on charges that Oakland police officers had exploited a teenager working in the sex trade.

Sponsored

"She has to deal with developing the morale of the department," said civil rights attorney John Burris, who represents the young woman as well as plaintiffs in a 13-year-old case that's kept the Police Department under the watch of a federal judge. "Given the number of chiefs that has been here ... there’s a real morale problem."

"Coming to Oakland, though, will be a challenge for her," Burris said of Kirkpatrick. "How she can elicit support from the command and rank and file will determine how successful she can be."

Kirkpatrick vowed to earn the trust of officers and the Oakland community.

"I know I have to earn a place in their thinking that I am legitimate to them," she said of the department's rank-and-file officers. "I know I need to prove to them that I care about them, that I will embrace them and support them, that I will be their No. 1 champion. But those are words right now until I prove them by my actions."

Kirkpatrick is currently chief of the Chicago Police Department's bureau of organizational development. On paper, the bureau is in charge of officer training and tracking the department's performance, but Kirkpatrick's job has been described as leading the force's reform efforts in the wake of the 2014 police killing of teenager Laquan McDonald.

She served as chief of police in the Seattle suburb of Federal Way and in the eastern Washington state cities of Ellensburg and Spokane. She also served as chief deputy in King County, Washington, which includes the city of Seattle. Her police career began as a patrol officer in Memphis, Tennessee. She holds a law degree from Seattle University Law School.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks during a Jan. 4 press conference at City Hall to introduce incoming Oakland Police Chief Anne E. Kirkpatrick (left).
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks during a Jan. 4 press conference at City Hall to introduce incoming Oakland Police Chief Anne E. Kirkpatrick (left). (Tara Siler/KQED)

The East Bay Times notes the historic nature of Kirkpatrick's appointment:

The Oakland Police Department, which has had approximately 38 permanent chiefs since its inception in the mid-1800s, has never had a woman at the helm, according to department records.

"I know nothing else but being a woman," Kirkpatrick said. "So when people ask me what's it like to be a woman, I don’t know any other way."

She listed desired traits for a new police chief that Oakland residents had identified during the the seven-month national search, including "decision-maker," "competent" and "has a vision."

"Those are character traits, and those character traits are not gender-based," Kirkpatrick said. "Those are leadership traits. I am a leader that is cloaked in being a woman."

Kirkpatrick had been a candidate for Chicago's top police post, superintendent, and joined the department at her lower rank last June.

In a questionnaire she completed for the Chicago superintendent's job, she was asked "what does accountability mean in the context of policing?" Her answer:

Accountability means holding officers individually, as well as the agency collectively, responsible for the delivery of police services in an ethical and legal manner. As a former Chief of Police, my mantra was that we are in the business of regulating other people's conduct, so I expect us (the police) to regulate our own conduct.

Accountability entails making expectations clear, leading the way, and encouraging others to follow willingly. Accountability also involves discipline in terms of running a "right and tight ship" and in terms of sanctions to gain corrective action. At times, corrective action includes terminations in order to maintain a highly effective and well-run organization.

The Oakland police force has operated for more than a decade under the terms of a federal court-negotiated settlement agreement that grew out of a civil rights lawsuit accusing the department of racially biased policing.

"She has to come to grips with the issues in the [negotiated settlement agreement], and try to lead the department into compliance," Burris said, "recognizing that there is certainly some resistance within it, so the challenges are there."

Kirkpatrick said "there will be no retreat" in achieving full compliance with the federal court order. She said she had spoken with the court's independent monitor, Robert Warshaw, and those conversations will continue.

In the Chicago questionnaire, Kirkpatrick described biased policing as "a cancer" that could be addressed only by articulating a zero-tolerance policy and the determination to back up words with action.

"Unless there is strong leadership that will not turn a blind eye and will actually start cutting that cancer out of the department, then it will never go away," Kirkpatrick wrote. "In that case, the policy is just cheap talk. When officers see that they can and will lose a career over it, then the culture will start to change. And when officers also see that promotional opportunities are based on upholding the values of a zero tolerance stand against biased-based policing, then you get a culture change."

Kirkpatrick's brief tenure in Chicago coincided with a catastrophic increase in gun violence in the city. By the Chicago Tribune's count, the toll in 2016 included 779 homicides and more than 4,300 shootings.

Oakland, too, has experienced a persistent problem with gun violence and homicides. The death toll has eased since the recent peak, 131, reached in 2012. Still, Oakland police recorded 87 killings in 2016, and the number recorded in the final three months of the year -- about 35 -- actually exceeded the rate seen in 2012.

In the Chicago questionnaire, Kirkpatrick said she'd focus on strategies she said have demonstrated success -- such as statistically based policing and the "broken windows" approach to focusing on "quality of life" offenses that is credited with reducing crime in New York City.

"In addition," she wrote, "I would also apply other crime strategies that we know work such as targeting career criminals and getting guns off the streets. There are some very innovative approaches to crime fighting that include partnering with social services to get low-level drug offenders and prostitutes into social services versus jail. I also think that law enforcement should approach crime fighting by helping to reintegrate ex-offenders back into our communities. Lastly, I would seek ways to give disenfranchised youth opportunities to 'belong' in healthy relationships as alternatives to gang life."

Sponsored

Alex Emslie of KQED News contributed to this report.