Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong speaking after his swearing-in ceremony at McClymonds High School on Feb. 8, 2021. Credit: Amir Aziz

On Monday, Feb. 8, LeRonne Armstrong was sworn in as Oakland’s new chief of police.

During an emotional ceremony outside McClymonds High School, Armstrong told an audience of city leaders, including Mayor Libby Schaaf, members of the City Council, and Police Commission, that he is “forever grateful” for being given the chance.

“I am honored to lead the men and women of the Oakland Police Department,” Armstrong said at the ceremony.

Although OPD has previously had four Black police chiefs, Armstrong is the first Black chief who was born and raised in Oakland.

Police Commission Chair Regina Jackson called Armstrong “Oakland’s native son.”

“Moving forward, everything that we do will be in partnership with our community. The time for change is here. It starts with me,” said Armstrong after being sworn in by Schaaf. “As we reimagine policing in the city of Oakland let’s always put the safety of our community first.”

Raised by a single mother, Armstrong’s brother was shot and killed in 1985 in Oakland. 

“I knew then at the age of 13 that whatever I decided to do would center around safety in the city of Oakland,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t want any other family to experience what I had experienced.”

Armstrong left Oakland to attend California State University Sacramento, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and also played basketball. He joined OPD in 1999 after four years working for the Alameda County Probation Department. During his 22-year OPD career, he’s worked as a patrol officer and sergeant, as a robbery and burglary investigator, and supervisor of OPD’s gang intelligence task force, among other roles. He holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership.

Since 2010, Armstrong has held leadership positions with the Oakland Black Officers Association, a group that advocates for Black officers and helps build police-community relations.

From left to right: D2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, D1 Councilmember Dan Kalb, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, D5 Councilmember Noel Gallo, D7 Councilmember Treva Reid, D6 Councilmember Loren Taylor. Credit: Amir Aziz

Armstrong rose to prominence in OPD starting around 2014 when he helped lead the department’s work analyzing police stop data and implementing policies to reduce the racially disproportionate impact of stops and searches. He was promoted to deputy chief in 2017.

The job of Oakland police chief is one of the most demanding in law enforcement. In addition to operating the department, which has around 1,100 employees, including about 730 officers, the chief reports to two bosses: the mayor and Police Commission. OPD is in its 18th year of oversight by a federal judge stemming from a class action lawsuit brought against the city in 2000 by over 100 Black men who accused officers of brutality and planting evidence.

Armstrong’s immediate predecessor, Anne Kirkpatrick, was fired last February by the Oakland Police Commission and Schaaf for no cause, and Kirkpatrick is currently suing the city alleging wrongful termination. Preceding Kirkpatrick’s firing, OPD slid backward on reforms required under the federal settlement agreement. Susan Manheimer, the retired chief of the San Mateo Police Department, served 10 months are Oakland’s interim chief.

Armstrong told the Police Commission during his job interviews several months ago that he is “prepared to immediately begin the work of achieving full compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA),” and “to make the cultural change needed to increase trust within our community through fair and unbiased treatment of all people.”

Armstrong is a resident of Oakland. His wife, Drennon Lindsey, who also works at OPD and applied for the job of police chief, was promoted yesterday by Schaaf and City Administrator Ed Reiskin to the rank of deputy chief.

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.