Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao has threatened to declare a state of emergency in the city if the Police Commission does not appoint a new police chief by the end of the year. Thao said she made this decision in response to the rising crime rates and the lack of leadership in the police department.
Thao fired former police chief LeRonne Armstrong in February, following a report that accused him of mishandling a hit-and-run incident involving a police sergeant and obstructing the investigation. Armstrong has denied the allegations and blamed the federal monitor overseeing police reforms for his suspension and termination.
Since then, the Police Commission, which is responsible for vetting and recommending candidates for chief, has not named a permanent replacement. The commission has faced internal conflicts and recently dismissed one of its members for violating confidentiality rules. The commission also started soliciting public input for the chief search only last month.
Thao said she is frustrated with the slow progress of the commission and wants to expedite the hiring process. She said she would use the state of emergency declaration to bypass the commission and appoint a chief herself, if necessary.
“In this case, what makes sense and what I have always talked about is that I would call a state of emergency if we cannot get the police commission to get its act together so that they can forward to me the top names for a new police chief,”
Thao told KPIX in an interview on Tuesday:
Thao said she hopes that her new appointees to the commission will help move things along and cooperate with her. She said she wants to hire a chief who can address the city’s public safety challenges and implement the reforms mandated by the federal court.
“I am hopeful that we can actually get work done and that they can do their job, which is to recommend to me the top three candidates, and so that I can actually interview those top three and get Oakland a police chief,” Thao said.
Thao’s threat of declaring a state of emergency comes amid a surge in violent crime in Oakland. According to CBS San Francisco, the city has recorded 111 homicides so far this year, compared to 78 at this time last year. The city has also seen an increase in shootings, robberies, carjackings, and burglaries.
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Thao said she is committed to improving public safety in Oakland and has announced a $2.5 million investment to upgrade the city’s 911 system. The investment will help increase staffing, recruitment, and training for dispatchers, as well as modernize computer systems and equipment. The 911 system has faced several issues recently, including a power outage that disrupted service in July and a report that found it failed to answer half of the calls within 15 seconds.
Thao said she hopes that by declaring a state of emergency, she can send a message to the Police Commission and the public that she is serious about finding a new police chief and restoring order in Oakland.
“I think it’s important for people to know that I’m not playing games here,” Thao said. “This is about saving lives.”