Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao rejected all finalists for the city’s police chief job, leaving the vacant post once again in limbo nearly a year after Thao placed it on leave the last permanent leader and subsequently fired him.
In a statement, Thao’s office said she wants the Oakland Police Commission to provide her with a new slate of candidates to lead the department, which remains under federal oversight amid a series of internal scandals.
“Oakland’s Police Chief is leading a critical part of the Mayor’s overall community safety strategy,” Thao’s statement said. “Mayor Thao thanks the Oakland Police Commission for their continued service and looks forward to working with the commissioners to select the best possible candidate for Oakland.”
The move marks the latest twist in a saga that began in January, when Thao placed former OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong on leave after a report found “systemic deficiencies” in the way her department investigated on cases of misconduct.
Thao fired Armstrong nearly a month later, citing his public statements downplaying the actions of a police sergeant whose misconduct led to a series of cover-ups by senior officers. Armstrong also publicly criticized the mayor and federal OPD monitor, Robert Warshaw.
Despite his dismissal, Armstrong continued to enjoy the support of many people in the community, including members of the Oakland Police Commission. In October, his name was the only one published on a list of 18 candidates for the position drawn up by three outgoing members of the police commission.
Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo, in a telephone interview Wednesday, confirmed the names of the three finalists as Armstrong; San Leandro Police Chief Abdul Pridgen and Kevin Hall, deputy chief in Tucson, Arizona.
Pridgen, who was a finalist for the job that Armstrong ultimately got in 2021, is on administrative leave in San Leandro for unspecified reasons.
Gallo expressed frustration with the process.
“The police chief position is the most important position we hold and we have been waiting for months and months to fill the vacant position,” Gallo said. He still strongly supports Armstrong, even though Thao fired him earlier this year. “I need someone with experience but who especially knows Oakland. I still support him and would like him back.
In a statement, Armstrong said it was “unfair that I will not be able to continue to serve and protect the people of Oakland.” He added that “as an Oakland native, nothing gave me more pleasure and pride than working in my community and fighting to improve it.”
Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, called the decision “incredibly frustrating” and questioned how the city could go so long without a permanent police chief. He said the continued lack of a decision on the position was having a “cascading effect” on the department’s ability to make long-term planning decisions.
“I’m discouraged by this whole process,” Donelan said. “Eleven months without a police chief? This is unfair to residents. This is unfair to the officers who serve them. This just goes to show that in the city of Oakland, they can’t get anything over the goal line.
Since voters approved Measure LL in 2018, the Oakland Police Commission has been in charge of police chief searches. It is up to the members to select the finalists and send them to the mayor, who can choose one or reject them all.
In 2020, then-mayor Libby Schaaf selected Armstrong from a field of four candidates. At the time, the commission and mayor held an open forum where the public could hear from the finalists. It was a break from tradition and this time, City Hall went back to not publicly releasing the police chief finalists.
Check back for updates on this developing story.
California Daily Newspapers