Top Cop Candidates Share Their Visions for Calif. Police Department

March 1, 2024
Oakland's four police chief candidates talked about community engagement, oversight in policing and other issues as they answered questions from Police Commission members.

By David Hernandez

Source San Francisco Chronicle

Four candidates vying for the job of police chief in Oakland discussed their experience and vision for the police force during a public forum Thursday.

The candidates, who attended virtually and took questions from members of the Police Commission at City Hall, stressed the importance of community engagement, accountability and oversight in policing. They acknowledged they would need to take steps to lead the Police Department out of federal oversight and address concerns about rampant crime.

Abdul Pridgen

Abdul Pridgen, San Leandro's former police chief, said he would become acquainted with the department's culture, review its protocols and engage with community members.

He spoke of the importance of discipline but also said it is crucial to highlight officers' great work to set examples for other officers. Police leaders often turn to training as a "default response" to issues within their departments, but "rarely is it a training issue," he said.

Pridgen said he believes in alternatives to policing to help improve public safety. "We cannot arrest our way out of crime," he said.

As a former chief, he said, he has created committees of community members to collect input on policies and functions, and has helped craft regulations for a community-led oversight board. He also highlighted programs he's worked on to engage with community members, including an initiative that gave drivers gift cards instead of tickets for broken tail lights during Christmas time.

Pridgen left the San Leandro Police Department last week after an investigation into allegations he violated department policies. He was a finalist for the job late last year before Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao rejected the slate. Pridgen did not address the investigation during the forum.

Floyd Mitchell

Floyd Mitchell, a former police chief in Tubbock, Texas, said he would meet with community groups, evaluate crime reduction efforts and sit down with staff to map out a plan with short-term and long-term strategies to reduce crime and increase community engagement. He said he has worked with organizations such as the NAACP to address community concerns.

"I believe the crime issue in Oakland should be our primary focus," he said. He said it is important to use data to curb crime and also crucial to communicate to the public the reasoning behind crime-fighting strategies.

He said strong policies and protocols are important for accountability, as well as strong supervision. He suggested it's crucial for supervisors to show up to calls and review how officers handle calls and for community members to feel comfortable making complaints.

He added that it is important for officers to know they are required to intervene when they witness possible policy violations. He said it is also crucial for department leaders to "make sure you set clear lines in the sand of what will be tolerated and won't be tolerated."

Mitchell, Lubbock's first Black police chief, resigned in September amid criticism of the department's dispatch center, where unanswered calls had increased while staffing decreased, according to news reports. A former police chief in Temple, Texas, Mitchell began his career in law enforcement in Kansas City.

Lisa Davis

Lisa Davis, a lieutenant colonel with the Cincinnati Police Department, said she would embark on a "listening tour," with city leaders, the federal monitor, residents and business owners at the table. She said she would review the department's organizational structure, including assignments within the agency, to develop a staffing and deployment plan. She said she understands downtown business owners want more officers in that area, and suggested she'd take that into account.

She said she supports efforts such as the city's Ceasefire strategy, an intelligence-led and data-driven effort intended to reduce crime. "Any strategy needs to be evidence-based," Davis said.

She added that she'd look for crime hotspots and partner with other city agencies to change "the environment" in those areas in order to curb crime.

Davis also spoke of the importance of training and mentoring before discipline. She said she would meet with sergeants, who are first-line supervisors, to make clear her expectations. She also said she'd work closely with the federal monitor and wouldn't come from an adversarial standpoint. The federal oversight began two decades ago in the wake of a class-action lawsuit alleging a band of officers abused people in West Oakland.

Davis was passed over for the chief's job in her department in 2022.

Louis Molina

Louis Molina, New York City's assistant deputy mayor for public safety, said he would meet with stakeholders within the department and at City Hall, state and federal agencies, the federal monitor and community members, including teachers and business owners. "Public safety is a shared responsibility that involves the community," he said.

He spoke of the importance of police alternatives, particularly to deal with public health issues, as well as recruitment from underrepresented neighborhoods. He added that he would support the work of city efforts such as the Ceasefire program and the Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland, a community-led program for 911 calls that are not emergencies or violent in nature.

Molina also said discipline is important to create accountability.

"There's going to be times when we're going to make mistakes," but he said he would aim to be transparent about issues while respecting due process.

Molina began his law enforcement career in the New York City Police Department, where he rose to the rank of detective, and later served as chief for Las Vegas' Department of Public Safety. A former commissioner of New York City's Department of Corrections, he faced criticism in that position because of jail conditions that continued under his tenure.

Members of the public were not able to ask questions during the forum.

The city was left without a permanent chief last February, when Thao fired then-Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong. The mayor cited an independent investigation that found Armstrong mishandled two misconduct cases. An independent arbitrator later cleared him of wrongdoing.

Armstrong reapplied for the job, and the Police Commission selected him as a finalist late last year, but Thao rejected the slate, forcing commissioners to come up with a new set of candidates.

Armstrong filed a lawsuit this month alleging he was wrongfully terminated.

Thao didn't participate in the forum. Earlier this week she criticized the public nature of the forum, arguing it chased away strong candidates. In 2020, the commission co-hosted a similar forum with former Mayor Libby Schaaf, who hired Armstrong.

After the forum, the Police Commission met behind closed doors to discuss the candidates. The commission plans to send Thao its top pick or picks Friday.

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(c)2024 the San Francisco Chronicle

Visit the San Francisco Chronicle at www.sfchronicle.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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