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Oakland Police Commission Seeks Resident Input on OPD Chief Candidates After Public Forum

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Oakland police investigate the scene after shooting an armed carjacking suspect on International Boulevard and 105th Avenue in East Oakland on Feb. 17, 2023. According to Oakland Police Department end-of-year data in 2023, incidents of violent crime in the city increased by 21% compared to the previous year, while robberies climbed 38% and motor vehicle theft jumped 45%. (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images)

The Oakland Police Commission is seeking residents’ input after a public forum on Thursday where four police chief candidates shared their visions for the department.

During the meeting, the candidates answered questions about why they believed they were right for the job and how they would change the culture of a department with a long history of impropriety.

Although residents in attendance were not given time to ask questions or share comments during the meeting, Police Commission Chair Marsha Peterson invited them to fill out a survey where they could rank the candidates and share comments or concerns. Peterson said the results of the survey would be shared with Mayor Sheng Thao, who will make the final decision.

The survey closes on Monday at noon.

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The first candidate to appear virtually Thursday night was Louis Molina, a former Las Vegas police chief and currently assistant deputy mayor for public safety in New York City. Others vying for the role include Lisa Davis, an assistant police chief of the Cincinnati Police Department; Abdul Pridgen, the former police chief in San Leandro; and Floyd Mitchell, a former police chief in Lubbock, Texas.

Pridgen was included in the previous list of entrants the Commission recommended to Mayor Thao late last year. She rejected the list entirely and asked the Commission to draw up new candidates.

Peterson addressed the reappearance of Pridgen’s name.

“One of the candidates tonight was on the list that we sent in December because we believe in the merit of his candidacy and because we understood that the mayor’s office was still interested in vetting him,” Peterson said.

The contentious search to fill the position’s vacancy has led some critics to attribute increases in certain types of crime in Oakland to the lack of a permanent chief.

In 2023, violent crime surged by 21%, compared to the previous year when the number of homicides plateaued at 120. Yet robberies spiked 38%, and motor vehicle theft jumped 45%, according to Oakland Police Department end-of-year data.

In a written statement, Mayor Thao’s office said she would “take the time that is necessary to select the person that will lead the Oakland Police Department.”

She did not rule out the possibility of once again rejecting the list in its entirety.

Dissatisfaction with how the city has handled crime has also contributed to recall efforts against both Mayor Thao and Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price.

During the forum, many of the candidates shared common themes in their responses, such as a commitment to address residents’ concerns, collaborating with the Police Commission and federal monitor to complete the reform goals for the department — and a desire to boost officer morale.

Yet responses differed in their approaches to these goals.

Louis Molina

Molina emphasized the importance of not relying on police to solve every problem within a city. He said he would work with social service and public health agencies to divert cases of individuals suffering from mental health or substance abuse problems.

“When you come from a totally enforcement strategy to deal with crime and overly populating the justice system with individuals that are driven to that because of other issues, you’re not doing any help but having the person cycle through a justice system, when what they really need is more of a public health solution,” Molina said.

The assistant deputy mayor also vowed to send more calls to the city’s MACRO office, a community response program for nonviolent, non-emergency 911 calls.

When asked how he’d change the culture within Oakland’s troubled police department, Molina referenced his experience leading New York City’s Department of Corrections to demonstrate his ability to hold those accountable under his leadership. Molina said during his time there, he worked through a backlog of thousands of disciplinary cases and decided to “forcibly separate over 300 individuals from service.”

“Staff absenteeism dropped over 80%. Use of force dropped in our first year 14%. So there are a lot of positive outcomes that can happen when we have standards,” Molina said. “There’s going to be times where we’re going to make mistakes. And as chief, I will be leaning into those situations, and I will be transparent while at the same time respecting the investigative process and due process of individuals.”

The New York Times reported last year, however, that Molina was criticized by a federal monitor of the city’s jails for a perceived lack of transparency and active efforts to conceal certain incidents of violence under his watch.

Lisa Davis

In her responses, Davis focused on improving the experiences of police officers as a means of bringing positive change to the department. She began her remarks by offering her condolences to city police for the death of Officer Tuan Le, who was fatally shot while responding to a burglary call in late December.

In her first 100 days, Davis said she would engage in a listening tour with members of the community and the department to ensure a smooth transition.

“Organizational change is very hard inside of a police department. … and certainly, when you’re bringing in an outside chief to lead the department, it can be hard on the officers. So I think a couple of things have to be done,” Davis said. “And that is meeting the officers, addressing their concerns, addressing any rumors that they hear, and just letting them know what your expectations are, what your plan is for the department, and just being as transparent as you can be with them when doing that.”

Davis said she believes there are three types of officers: About 10% are highly motivated and engaged, 80% aren’t very motivated but still do their jobs and 10% are never happy to be at work. She hopes to get the 80% reengaged.

“Morale is something that absolutely affects recruiting and retention. It affects officer wellness, all of those things. So morale has to be addressed,” Davis said.

She added that she intends to raise morale by giving officers support, training and resources essential to their roles while also minimizing the stigma associated with seeking counseling.

As she spoke, Davis also shared formative experiences with police during her childhood, including one traumatic incident when officers entered her home looking for her uncle.

“The next thing I know, I see my uncle flying off of the second-floor banister. They threw him over a set of stairs,” Davis said. “But I had other experiences with police. I had a school resource officer that was so kind and so involved in school that I knew all cops were not this way.”

She said these experiences propelled her to work in public service and also made her right for the job.

Abdul Pridgen

Pridgen pointed to his years of experience in various aspects of law enforcement, including as finance and personnel assistance chief in Fort Worth, Texas. There, Pridgen said he ensured the department never exceeded its budget and implemented recruiting strategies that led to an increase in diversity of over 80% in an academy class.

Of the four candidates, Pridgen is the only one who lives in the Bay Area or even the state, having most recently served as police chief in San Leandro.

“I have been in California for six years, so I’m very familiar with the way California policing works, and I can hit the ground running in Oakland,” Pridgen said.

Pridgen said he would change OPD’s culture by focusing on accountability, including positive accountability — regularly recognizing officers for exceptional work and also leading by example.

“I’m a person of unimpeachable integrity with strong principles, and I always do the right thing,” Pridgen said. “I’m fair, I’m honest and I’m just. And that’s what I want my employees to do when they interact with people inside the department and outside the department.”

Pridgen also observed that officers are usually the ones within departments that are held accountable for wrongdoing, rather than higher-ups. He outlines an idea he called “trickle-down accountability.”

“When assistant chiefs and deputy chiefs and captains recognize that their missteps or their oversight to address things that are occurring with their direct reports will ultimately cause them to be held accountable, they’re more likely to hold those below them accountable,” Pridgen said.

It’s worth noting that Pridgen resigned from his post in San Leandro last week amid allegations that he violated department policies. City officials have not said which policies were violated.

Floyd Mitchell

Mitchell pointed to his background, growing up in a diverse metropolitan area with policing issues related to Black and brown communities, as instructive in helping him learn about “true constitutional and procedurally just policing.”

Mitchell said in his time as police chief in the cities of Lubbock and Temple, Texas, he learned to work effectively with neighborhood and community groups like the NAACP.

Similar to Davis, Mitchell expressed belief in the idea that increased personal and professional support of officers will translate into better treatment of residents. Mitchell said he also believes that officers must be instilled with the idea that accountability is their responsibility.

“Our officers have to know that there is a duty to intervene. If they see someone violating policy, it’s their responsibility to make sure that that information is reported to their supervisor,” Mitchell said.

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Mitchell drew parallels between his experience with the Kansas City Police Department in Missouri and Oakland’s ongoing federal monitor’s work and civilian oversight provided by the Police Commission.

“I understand the process and all the parties that are involved in the Oakland pyramid,” Mitchell said. “I feel comfortable that I would be able to come into this situation and understand that all of us have our individual parts and pieces that we bring to the table in regards to how we hold people accountable and work together.”

Still, local reports indicate that Mitchell resigned from his recent position as chief shortly after a closed-door city council session where he was the subject, although details of the meeting remain undisclosed. Under his leadership, Lubbock’s 911 response operations were also criticized for the increased number of abandoned calls, where callers hung up before reaching a dispatcher.

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