OPD admin building at 7th and Broadway
OPD admin building at 7th and Broadway Credit: Pete Rosos

Oakland is seeking a new kind of police chief, one who will embrace radical change and work toward transforming the police department from within. 

On Friday, the city posted a description of the job that describes the ideal candidate as someone who will “eradicate the [police] Department’s role in racial profiling, implicit bias, and structural racism, thereby helping to dismantle mechanisms of discrimination, oppression, and violence.”

Although the job description does say the police chief should help reduce crime, especially violent crime, it doesn’t focus on traditional public safety strategies and concepts.

“We have seen what traditional leadership looks like and how that wasn’t serving us,” Regina Jackson, chair of the Oakland Police Commission said in an interview. “We have to demand a leader that’s going to take us in the new direction that we want to go.”

The job posting, which was written by the city’s civilian Police Commission with public input, cites the need for an overhaul of the department and a rethinking of what it means to police: “The Chief will demonstrate a deep and earnest commitment to transforming OPD’s culture to embrace guardianship, rather than a warrior mindset.”

“We’re proud of it,” Jackson said about the job description.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the OPD top job is an “incredibly difficult” role.

“Our residents demand a Police Chief who will embrace the mandate to reimagine public safety,” said Schaaf. “We want a person who can root out systemic racism and restore trust, but also do the hard work to reduce crime in our city.”

The Police Commission is also asking that the next police chief dedicate themself to helping the City Council “reallocate” the city budget to reduce the police department’s role in responding to mental health crises and other service calls that may not require armed officers.

According to the job description: “The new OPD will support the City’s efforts to steer funds, traditionally managed by OPD, into social services better suited to mitigate problems. This will demonstrate OPD’s willingness to address impactful systemic issues and to collaborate with the appropriate actors and agencies to help address core issues of health and safety, poverty, and education.”

The Oakland Police Officers Association, which represents OPD officers, did not respond to an email seeking their reaction to the job posting.

Cat Brooks, a founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, said she’s long advocated for hiring a police chief who genuinely wants to “work themselves out of a job” by finding ways to reduce reliance on police officers in situations better suited for social services and unarmed civilian first-responders.

Brooks noted that the City Council recently adopted a goal of reducing OPD spending by 50% in the next three-year budget, which will be drafted in 2021. To lead this effort, the council established a task force to “reimagine” public safety and make recommendations for the budget.

“We’ve been running the defund OPD campaign for the past 5 years,” said Brooks. “To see a job description come out that actually reinforced the task force’s goal of defunding OPD and investing in non-police services is great.”

Applicants for the job will be considered by the Oakland Police Commission, which will then forward a list of final candidates to the mayor. Schaaf will pick the next police chief from this list.

Schaaf said Oakland’s hiring process will have an impact beyond the city. “The job will attract a person who wants to lead, not just our department as Oakland becomes a national model,” she said, “but someone who wants to lead a national movement in police leadership.”

“They too should be excited about change, about evolution,” Jackson said about the kinds of applicants the commission is seeking. “But if they’re tired, then you shouldn’t come to Oakland. You shouldn’t apply.”

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.