Oakland's New Chief of Police Faces Gun Violence, COVID-19 and Budget Cuts

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The coronavirus pandemic is not the only deadly plague Oakland is facing; gun violence and budget cuts are also in the picture and the new Chief of Police is now in charge of making the city safer.

LeRonne Armstrong - Oakland native and a 22-year veteran of the force - has learned from his predecessors and the men and women who have sat in his chair years prior.

"Never in my wildest dreams at that time, would I think I’d ever be the chief of police," Armstrong told NBC Bay Area on a one-on-one interview.

He has learned what to do and what not to do while at the Department and said "one of the biggest lessons" he's learned is "its important to be transparent."

Armstrong is transparent about the tough decisions he's already had to make as Oakland, like many cities across the U.S., is facing a financial crisis fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, the city slashed $15 million from the department's overtime spending. This means one ceasefire violence prevention unit is gone, two traffic enforcement units are cut and Oakland Police Department's sideshow enforcement unit is also gone.

On Super Bowl Sunday, two side shows drew large crowds and in one case, triggered gun fire.

"Our sideshow activity has went up 1,000%," Chief Armstrong said. "Its as violent as its ever been. We don’t have the overtime to put officers out there."

One of the priorities of Chief Armstrong is to address the attacks against Asian Americans in Oakland's Chinatown. He acknowledges that volunteers have taken it upon themselves to patrol the streets on their own.

"Report what you see but don’t intervene," he said. "We don’t want vigilante groups in our community because that exacerbates the problem."

The new Chief of Police also faces the issue of OPD's federal oversight now entering its 18th year. Critics like fired former Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick say it’s time for the DOJ to get rid of the federal monitor Robert Warshaw and allow the city to complete its reforms.

"I’m really optimistic that within a year we’ll see full compliance," Armstrong said.

The new Chief of Police beat out several competitors for the top job - including his wife and co-worker, Deputy Chief Drennon Lindsey.

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