Today, I have reached a decision about Chief LeRonne Armstrong’s future with the department.
I believe strongly in the future of Oakland. Our police department has made great strides over the years to be fair to Oakland residents and its own officers. But there is a lot more to do, and my job is to make absolutely sure we continue our progress.
As I came to this decision, I had two major considerations in mind: First, that we appropriately address the findings of the independent investigation. This investigation began last year under the previous administration. Second, that we in Oakland continue our work in reforming our Police Department, not by checking boxes but by instilling a culture of integrity and fairness at every level.
Oakland needs a police department that welcomes opportunities for improvement, rather than immediately rejecting criticism. And I made a commitment, as your mayor, to ensure that the Police Department and the City can prove, once and for all, that Oakland is ready to ensure constitutional policing without federal oversight.
Within days of being notified that the City needed time to carefully review the findings and evidence in these very serious cases, Chief Armstrong made a number of statements that troubled me.
In response to a public report that concluded that OPD had repeatedly failed to rigorously investigate misconduct and hold officers accountable, Chief Armstrong said these were not incidents where officers behaved poorly. He stated that he did not believe these incidents reflected systemic problems.
Instead, Chief Armstrong described the underlying incident as a minor vehicle collision. He said that officers made “mistakes.” He publicly stated that the sergeant involved in a vehicle collision was held accountable, disregarding the independent investigator’s findings of serious flaws in the disciplinary process.
I’ve taken the time to review the cases and consider the evidence and conclusions as to each of the subject officers, including Chief Armstrong. Publicly discussing the merits of these discipline cases would be inappropriate. But I can say that it is clear to me that there are systemic issues the City needs to address, and that we cannot simply write them off as “mistakes.”
The federal judge overseeing the City said that he was profoundly disappointed in the evidence he’d seen and that the report demonstrates significant cultural problems in the Department. The federal monitor determined there were systemic issues serious enough to render the Department out of compliance with an important requirement of the negotiated settlement agreement.
And I personally believe this report shows the absolute necessity of continued reforms to address the issues that have been brought to light.
And as Oakland continues to improve its police department, we must be confident that our Chief will be effective in making sustainable improvements that can be recognized by the federal monitor, the federal court and the people of Oakland.
Oakland is committed to reform. Not simply because of conditions of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement but because it is the right thing to do.
I also want to add that I’ve had the pleasure to work beside so many fine OPD officers. These officers serve the public trust and I’ve seen them work extremely hard to maintain and build that trust. They are asked to serve our city with integrity - and they do. Oakland’s leadership must live up to the standards we set for those officers.
In order to finally bring an end to Oakland’s federal oversight – and not risk the investments we’ve made for over 20 years – it’s an absolute requirement that my administration, including the Chief of Police, be able to work closely with the monitoring team and speak credibly before the court.
Chief Armstrong has my respect and appreciation for his service to the Department and to the City that he grew up in and that he loves dearly. He will continue to have my respect and appreciation.
But I am no longer confident that Chief Armstrong can do the work needed to achieve the vision. So today, I have decided to separate Chief LeRonne Armstrong from the City without cause.
This was not an easy decision but it’s one I believe is necessary for that progress to continue. It’s precisely because I admire Chief Armstrong that this has been personally difficult. But this process has reinforced my commitment to making decisions based on the best interests of the department and the City, and not based on personal feelings or relationships.
Even the decision to place Chief Armstrong on paid administrative leave was difficult. I did not make that decision because I had pre-judged the outcome. Instead, I did it in order to keep an open mind. I’ve now had time to weigh the information and I’m sharing my thought process because I want to be as transparent as possible.
I realize this means that the police commission and I now have the difficult task of finding the Police Department’s next leader and role model. I look forward to working with them. I know that they share my commitment to seeking a diverse pool of applicants, and to finding candidates who are committed to reform and who have demonstrated the ability to improve community police relationships.
I also believe true reform does not stop with accountability. We must also work to reform the systems that have failed and that is something my Administration will focus on in coming weeks and months.