Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is surrounding herself and her city Cabinet with feminine power.
On Tuesday, Schaaf announced a new director of public safety, the same day sources leaked that a new police chief has been hired. Both choices are women.
That now means Oakland's top leadership positions — mayor, city administrator, police chief, fire chief, city attorney and public safety director — are all held by women. Both assistant city administrators are also women. And both spokeswomen for the police department and the mayor's office are also female. In addition, Alameda County's district attorney and coroner, whose offices are in and jurisdictions include Oakland, are also female.
To compare in the Bay Area, San Francisco has had a female police chief, fire chief and sheriff, but not with a female mayor at the helm, and not all at the same time.
"I have high hopes that this appointment will change how the citizens of Oakland will feel about the police, their tactics and politics," said Candice Elder, founder of the East Oakland Collective and the executive coordinator for the Women's Funding Network in San Francisco.
Not all Oakland residents, and women, for that matter, are so optimistic.
In an interview Wednesday, Black Lives Matter organizer and Anti Police-Terror Project founder Cat Brooks was critical of Schaaf's decision to hire a new chief without waiting for the newly elected police commission that Oakland voters approved in November. The commission, to be led by citizens and which hasn't started meeting yet, has the power to mete out discipline to officers and even fire the chief.
Brooks also wasn't so sure that having women in power would help everyone in the city. "So far, we have not had a fair and just society. There's been an onslaught against the black and the poor. There's no difference than if a man was in power," Brooks said.
It should be noted that most of the women in Oakland's government leadership roles are not people of color. In Oakland, 55 percent of the population is either African American or Latino; slightly more than 30 percent are white.
Still, the roles of Oakland's newest hires come at a time when Schaaf has been trying to clean house following a national police sex abuse scandal. She vowed this summer: “I am here to run a police department, not a frat house.”
Schaaf hired Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief of Spokane, Washington as Oakland’s new top cop. She will be the first woman in that position in city history. She described Kirkpatrick as a "reform leader" who will hold police officers accountable. She didn't directly take on the question of why she didn't wait for the police commission, but she did say "community input" was key in hiring Kirkpatrick. Shaaf said that 300 residents attended a dozen or so meetings, and 600 more residents gave their input online into what they wanted in a new police chief.
Kirkpatrick has most recently worked for the Chicago Police Department, hired in June to oversee reforms resulting from the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Previously, she was among the finalists for police chief of Chicago, the East Bay Times reported. She also had been a runner-up in 2013 when Jean Quan was mayor, a source told the newspaper, but was beaten out by Sean Whent.
According to her résumé, Kirkpatrick has worked for the FBI’s Law Enforcement Executive Development Association and has been chief of police in Spokane, Federal Way, Washington, and Ellensburg, Washington. Her highest degree is a Juris Doctorate in law from the Seattle University Law School.
Also on Tuesday, Schaaf said she was “proud” to announce that Venus D. Johnson will be the new director of public safety who “will lead the coordinated effort to break cycles of violence in Oakland through effective crime prevention coupled with smart and principled policing.”
Johnson is a former Alameda County prosecutor with a history of fighting for the rights of crime victims and a track record for implementing innovative efforts to reduce recidivism and address the root causes of crime and violence, Schaaf said.
Before this, Johnson served as a senior legal and policy adviser to former California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. Johnson served on the California Commission on Access to Justice, which is tasked with developing solutions to improve access to civil justice for low and moderate income Californians. Johnson earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University, and her law degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.
One of Johnson's Facebook cover photos? A sweatshirt that reads: "The future is female."
“Venus has been one of Oakland’s finest champions in the legal and public safety community,” Schaaf said in a statement. “She brings significant experience with law enforcement at the local and state level, as well having as deep roots in communities across Oakland.”
Oakland has been without a chief for seven months. A succession of chiefs either resigned or were forced out this summer following a sex abuse scandal involving officers and a teenage sex worker now known as Jasmine. The Oakland department has also been tainted by officers accused of sending racists texts to each other.
It was in June that Schaaf called the current department “toxic” and “macho.” She also promised that she wouldn’t stand for it anymore."