San Francisco

Oakland's First Female Police Chief to Inherit Troubled Department

Anne Kirkpatrick became Oakland’s fourth top cop in seven months on Wednesday, inheriting a beleaguered police department that has been embroiled in a sex-abuse scandal involving a teenage girl that cost the three former police chiefs their jobs.

In all, the Oakland Police Department has had six police chiefs since 2011: Paul Figueroa, Ben Fairow, Sean Whent, Anthony Toribio, Howard Jordan and Anthony Batts.

Kirkpatrick, who introduced herself on Wednesday to Oakland with some feisty Southern charm, is the first woman to lead the city's police department.

"Y'all have been nothing but absolutely welcoming to me," the Memphis, Tennessee, native said with a laugh, teasing Californians as the ones with the strange accent. "I'm so excited to be here in Oakland."

Kirkpatrick admitted that she was not looking for a job when Schaaf offered her the position, but acknowledged that now there is work to be done.

"I am so proud to be an Oakland police officer, but I also know I need to earn the right to be their chief," she said. "And I'm going to do everything I can to earn that and to earn your respect as an outsider coming into Oakland."

Interestingly, Kirkpatrick applied to run Oakland’s police department under former Mayor Jean Quan, a source told the East Bay Times. However, she was passed over for Whent, who was appointed interim chief in May 2013, and was the first chief to resign in the wake of the sex scandal with Jasmine aka Celeste Guap who said she had relations with about 30 officers across the region.

According to public records, Whent was being paid $235,000 when he left. Kirkpatrick, who plans to live and work in Oakland and is slated to start her new job on Feb. 27, will earn a base salary of $270,000, pending City Council approval, according to city officials.

Mayor Libby Schaaf, who launched her search for a police chief in August, said Kirkpatrick is "the reform-minded leader that Oakland has been searching for." She added that Kirkpatrick is "unafraid to hold officers accountable to the highest standards of conduct."

In the past, Schaaf expressed disgust with some of the behavior within the Oakland Police Department, adding she was not hired to oversee a "frat house."

Kirkpatrick touted her "courage" to hold officers accountable, but said that practice begins with herself. 

The new chief also said to Oakland's officers, "I have the courage to stand by you and I will. And you have a community that wants to love you and I'm going to do everything I can to earn that for you."

Kirkpatrick said her goal in the new role is not reform — a buzzword surrounding police departments nationwide. Instead, she has her eye on transformation.

"That’s the change of thinking. That’s the cultural change," she stressed.

Oakland Police Department
Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick (Jan. 4, 2017)

In a brief statement, Oakland Police Officers' Association president Sgt. Barry Donelan said: "We are glad that the uncertainty surrounding the position of Oakland Chief of Police is finally settled." He added that his officers look forward to working "collaboratively" with Kirkpatrick.

Despite the lack of a permanent chief since the summer, Schaaf thanked officers who "continued to serve the community during these trying times," delivering a 2016 that was the city's safest year since 2005.

With 34 years of law enforcement experience, Kirkpatrick has for some time had an eye on being the police chief of a big city. She has applied for the position in Chicago, Phoenix, Seattle and San Francisco, the East Bay Express reported.

She was the police chief of Spokane, Washington, from 2006 to 2012, where she struggled with the aftershocks of a fatal police beating and hog-tying of a janitor. The incident prompted outcry and a demand for police reforms and accountability.

However, Kirkpatrick's attempt at holding officers responsible for their actions did not sit well with the department's rank-and-file, according to the Chicago Tribune. In fact, a detective sued her and the city of Spokane for defamation and wrongful termination after he was fired for allegedly threatening his wife. Not only was Jay Mehring awarded over $700,000 by a jury, but he was also reinstated to the force. 

After Kirkpatrick's departure, a Justice Department review reprimanded the Spokane Police Department for a "lack of transparency, accountability, and community outreach efforts," which, they said, "increased the distance between the police and its community."

Kirkpatrick has also served as chief deputy of the King County Sheriff's Office in Washington state, where she supervised a staff of more than 1,000 from November 2012 to June 2014. Most recently, she spent six months as the Chief of Bureau of Organizational Development for the Chicago Police Department.

Kirkpatrick’s LinkedIn profile indicates she has been a licensed attorney in Washington state for 23 years, after graduating from the Seattle University School of Law. She also graduated from the FBI National Academy, the FBI National Executive Institute as well as the FBI's Law Enforcement Executive Development School.

Stakeholders in town said they want to keep an open mind about the new chief.

Civil rights attorney John Burris, who is a vocal Oakland police critic, said Wednesday that he hopes Kirkpatrick “develops an appreciation for the different interest groups in the community.” He said it’s not enough to just be concerned with officers.

Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter organizer and Anti Police-Terror Project founder Cat Brooks was critical of Schaaf's decision to hire a chief without waiting for input from the newly minted police commission that Oakland voters approved in November.

Schaaf did not directly address the police commission question. But she did say that "community input" served as the "cornerstone" of the recruitment process. She heard from more than 300 Oakland residents over a dozen meetings and over 600 more shared their thoughts in an online survey. All participants were "very clear" about their vision for their hometown's chief cop, she said.

"Oaklanders wanted a leader with integrity, able to change culture," she said. "Someone who would deliver on fair and just policing, prevent violence and increase accountability, and, of course, most importantly, build community trust."

As for her part, Kirkpatrick acknowledged that the Oakland Police Department, like officers all over the country, are in the midst of a "very hard time."

"I will promise you leadership," she said. "We'll get there."

The Oakland City Council is scheduled to receive a proposal from Schaaf sometime this month. At that time, members are are expected to vote on Kirkpatrick’s contract and salary, city officials said.

NBC Bay Area's Lisa Fernandez and Bob Redell contributed to this report.

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