New Calif. Police Chief to Bring Community Policing Focus

March 28, 2024
“I love public service and I love being a part of communities that are working together to address difficult issues around public safety," said new Oakland Police Chief Floyd Mitchell in his introductory address.

By Shomik Mukherjee

Source Bay Area News Group

OAKLAND, CA — Facing the public here for the first time, new police Chief Floyd Mitchell leaned away from the city’s tricky problems around crime and policing, instead focusing part of an introductory address Wednesday on his experiences growing up in Kansas City, Missouri.

He took care to note the three street intersections where he lived as a kid with a single mother and two older sisters, tracing an upbringing in a “large, diverse city” that he described as having “many of the same social, economic and violent crime issues facing Oakland.”

“Both my parents worked shift jobs,” Mitchell said, reading from written comments. “Even though they were separated, they collaborated — and worked together with each other to make sure we had a roof over our head and food on the plate.”

The new top cop, who spent 25 years with the Kansas City police force before serving as chief in a pair of smaller Texas cities, outlined in his initial comments his approach as a collegial leader — someone who can build bonds and heal tensions amid a brutal four-year stretch of bad crime rates in Oakland.

Why, at 56 years old, would he accept a politically challenging chief job in California?

“Strictly put, I’m not done policing,” he said. “I love public service and I love being a part of communities that are working together to address difficult issues around public safety.”

The politics around the Oakland Police Department haven’t been stable for a long time, but the last year proved especially toxic — with the most recent ex-chief, LeRonne Armstrong, suing Mayor Sheng Thao for damages after she fired him last February.

Thao did not address those politics in her comments at Wednesday’s City Hall event, but she made it a point to describe Mitchell as a “humble man” who “values accountability.”

“He doesn’t make excuses when things don’t work out as expected,” Thao said of Mitchell, who was hired last week to helm the OPD and expected to officially start in late April or early May.

“Instead, he listens, he addresses the problem head on and he learns from the experience,” she continued.

One problem he faced at his last stop as police chief in Lubbock, Tex. was the collapse of the local 911 system, which encountered challenges similar to those in Oakland: a decline in dispatch staffing and a spike in unanswered emergency calls.

The chief, credited by Thao in an interview last week for not shying away from his role in those troubles, said Wednesday it has taken time for him and other law enforcement agencies to “truly understand the pressures that are placed on the… dispatchers.”

“In the end, I take responsibility for our failures there,” he said, describing how more recently the 911 dispatch staff in Lubbock were brought out of the police department’s basement and up to the building’s top floor.

Mitchell explained that his mistake was listening to the “formal communication chains” within the police ranks instead of the “boots on the ground in that particular situation,” noting that he will establish more direct lines of contact in Oakland.

Ahead of the event, Thao’s office released testimonials from a number of public leaders who have met or worked with Mitchell, including one from the head of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, who described him as “one of America’s best police chiefs.”

“He is a dynamic leader and collaborator who focuses on what’s important and what matters in building a strong and safe community,” Gene Ellis, the executive director of the association, said in a statement. “His emphasis on addressing the underlying causes of crime through strong officer-community engagement sets him apart.”

Mitchell may find himself needing to build similarly strong relationships in Oakland, where the mayor, a federal monitor, a local policing review agency and the volunteer-led Oakland Police Commission share the responsibilities of holding OPD accountable.

On Wednesday, he briefly addressed the department’s struggles to exit federal oversight, where it has remained for two decades. The court-ordered monitoring of OPD’s affairs is what led to an investigation that resulted last year in Armstrong’s firing.

“I’m going to sit down with the monitor,” Mitchell said, “and identify what we need to do — and how we need to do it — to get to the end of the road.”


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