1st female Oakland police chief vows to mend community ties
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Oakland leaders on Wednesday hired an outsider and the first woman to run and reform the city’s troubled police department that cycled through three chiefs in as many weeks this summer after several officers were implicated in a sex-abuse scandal with an underage girl.
Mayor Libby Schaaf called Anne Kirkpatrick “the reform-minded leader that Oakland has been searching for.” She takes over a police force under federal court oversight since 2003 and without a chief for seven months.
Kirkpatrick began her 34-year policing career in her native Memphis, Tennessee, and has risen to lead four different departments. She has a track record of trying to overhaul troubled police agencies.
Chicago hired her six months ago to lead an effort to oversee police reforms. She was a finalist for chief after a video showing an officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times led to the superintendent’s firing.
Speaking with a distinct southern drawl, Kirkpatrick vowed to rebuild damaged relations with Oakland’s significant black community while working to revitalize a demoralized rank-and-file force.
“I’m interested in transformation,” Kirkpatrick said.
She offered few specifics of her plans but said, “I don’t consider it a mess,” when asked about taking over the embattled department. “It’s an opportunity.”
Maya Whitaker, a black community organizer who helped with the job search, said the new chief is aware that she is entering a “no-trust zone” and needs “to break down barriers.”
Whitaker said she’s optimistic that Kirkpatrick, who is white, has the experience to succeed in Oakland but the community “will hold her accountable” if she fails.
Sgt. Barry Donlan, head of the officers’ union, said “Oakland’s hard-working police officers look forward to working collaboratively with Chief Kirkpatrick in serving our community.”
She joins a rare slate of female leaders of a large city. Oakland’s mayor, fire chief and city administrator are all women.
Kirkpatrick previously held high-ranking law enforcement posts in Washington state, including as Spokane’s police chief for six years through 2012. The city hired her to reform a department rocked by a police brutality scandal. Along the way, she earned a law degree at Seattle University.
Kirkpatrick will bring her background in reform to an agency dogged by a scandal that ensnared two dozen officers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area accused of having sex with the teen daughter of an Oakland dispatcher.
About a dozen Oakland officers resigned, were suspended or were implicated in the scandal, and seven current and former Bay Area officers faced criminal charges.
The teen has told The Associated Press and other media outlets that she worked as a 17-year-old prostitute and had sex with two dozen officers, sometimes in exchange for tips on prostitution stings and protection from arrest.
The allegations led to Oakland cycling through three police chiefs in June before the mayor announced that the city’s administrator would take over management of the department until a permanent chief was hired.
The police force has been under federal court supervision since the 2003 settlement of a civil rights lawsuit that accused officers of planting evidence, beating suspects and other wrongdoing.
Under former Chief Sean Whent, the city was close to shedding court oversight when the sex scandal derailed the department’s reform process and forced Whent to resign.
Bay Area Rapid Transit Deputy Chief Ben Fairow was appointed to replace Whent but resigned shortly afterward when news of an extramarital affair surfaced.
Oakland Deputy Chief Paul Figueroa agreed to act as interim chief but stepped down two days later for unknown reasons. Figueroa was then demoted to captain, and management of the department was turned over to the city administrator.