A golden Oakland police chief badge pinned to a dark blue police uniform shirt.
Credit: Amir Aziz

The Oakland Police Commission has been working for about eight months to recruit a new police chief. Under the City Charter, the commission is tasked with gathering and analyzing applications, and normally the commission is supposed to vote in a closed session on who to nominate as the three finalists. It then forwards this confidential shortlist to the mayor, who picks the next chief from these three.

But the current recruitment process has been anything but normal. 

The commission has been racked for months with internal division. Several commissioners have called on the board’s current chair, Tyfahra Milele, to step aside. They’ve accused her of making anti-democratic decisions and mishandling the investigation of the discipline scandal that led to the firing of OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong. Milele has countered that these commissioners are trying to obstruct the work of the board. This conflict escalated two weeks ago when three commissioners—Regina Jackson, Marsha Peterson, and Karely Ordaz—announced they would boycott all of the commission’s meetings until after Oct. 16, when the current chair and vice chair’s terms expire and they leave the board.

So far, the three have kept their word. By boycotting the meetings they’ve denied the commission the quorum it needs to make any official decisions. They said they took this step because they thought the police chief hiring process was being improperly run, including by giving the appearance that former chief Armstrong was a preferred candidate.

But the boycott didn’t stop a subcommittee of the Police Commission that’s in charge of the chief recruitment process from announcing on Monday night that it has shared a shortlist of seven “top” candidates for the next police chief with Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and the city administrator.

The search committee’s members, Chair Tyfahra Milele, Vice Chair David Jordan, and Rudy Howell, said in a press release that Armstrong, who Thao fired in February, applied for the job and is among the top seven.

“After a rigorous and extensive national search, the committee has identified these candidates as highly qualified for the position,” Milele, Jordan, and Howell said in a press release.

Commission Chair Tyfahra Milele told The Oaklandside these candidates are not finalists.

“This list of 7 is to advance to the next stage,” she said. “That includes interviews, and we recommend a public forum with the finalists.”

Vice Chair David Jordan said the search committee shared its list with the mayor and administrator as a courtesy so they know where the process sits once he and Milele term out next week. 

But other members of the commission say the search committee’s move has caused more friction.

Commissioner Regina Jackson, who is part of the group boycotting meetings, said the subcommittee’s decision to forward a list to the mayor without full commission approval is “shocking, reprehensible—it’s unethical.” Contrary to the search committee’s statement, Jackson said she has not received a copy of the list.

Jackson said the committee’s process was not transparent and leaves serious questions about its recruitment process unanswered. “What was the process by which they were culled down to seven?” Jackson said. “And what is the critical analysis for justifying the bottom seven candidates or the top seven candidates?”

Milele told the San Francisco Chronicle that the search committee was forced to send the list to the mayor without a vote of the full commission due to the boycott

The search committee’s announcement comes less than a week after the Oakland city administrator said the application deadline for candidates would be extended to Oct. 13. This was done at the recommendation of The Byers Group, an executive search firm the commission hired in June to handle the work of advertising the job and gathering applications. 

Milele, Jordan, and Howell said in their press release that the search committee disagreed with the administrator’s decision to extend the application period, citing crime and “growing concerns in the community over the city’s leadership decisions on public safety” as a reason to move forward with the original timeline.

Despite the search committee’s announcement, a spokesperson for Mayor Thao, Francis Zamora, said that the window for applications will remain open until Friday Oct. 13, and that the mayor encourages qualified candidates to continue to apply.

“We thank the ad hoc committee for their service,” Zamora said in a statement. “The administration will forward these names to the executive search firm which is facilitating the recruitment and vetting process for the police chief.”  

No one with the city—including police commissioners, the mayor’s office, and the administration—would share the names of the other six candidates, citing the ongoing recruitment process and concerns about publicizing their applications prematurely. 

Police Commission Vice Chair David Jordan said the search committee named Armstrong in their press release because they were concerned that the city administrator’s decision to extend the application deadline for the job might be a strategy to quietly reject Armstrong. By waiting until Milele and Jordan leave the commission after Oct. 16, the commission could end up advancing a group of applicants that don’t include the former chief. 

Jordan further speculated that this could save Thao from having to reject Armstrong’s candidacy if he were one of the three finalists voted on by the full commission and sent to the mayor. Jordan noted that this is Thao’s “legal right” but it “could be challenging given the divisive nature of the discourse surrounding the former chief.” 

Jordan said Armstrong gave the commission permission to disclose that he applied for the job. 

“From my perspective, individually naming Armstrong is not meant to indicate favoritism, but to maintain equity for his application given the controversy,” Jordan said. 

It’s unusual that the search committee published Armstrong’s name, but it’s not surprising he’s on the list of top candidates. Last Month, after news broke about a neutral hearing officer’s opinion mostly clearing Armstrong of wrongdoing in the police misconduct cases that led to him being placed on leave in January, Milele announced the Police Commission would consider Armstrong as a candidate. Last week, Milele held a town hall to hear from residents about whether Armstrong should be “reinstated” as police chief.

Thao has said she will not rehire Armstrong, citing his decision to go to the press during his administrative leave to accuse the federal monitor who oversees the Oakland Police Department of corruption and to publicly deny any wrongdoing even while the investigation was still underway. 

Armstrong, who filed a legal claim against the city for firing him, said in a statement this week that he wants his job back. “I believe that the mayor should rehire me as chief of police based upon the clear evidence that I acted properly and did not violate any department policies,” Armstrong said.

Eli Wolfe reports on City Hall for The Oaklandside. He was previously a senior reporter for San José Spotlight, where he had a beat covering Santa Clara County’s government and transportation. He also worked as an investigative reporter for the Pasadena-based newsroom FairWarning, where he covered labor, consumer protection and transportation issues. He started his journalism career as a freelancer based out of Berkeley. Eli’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic, NBCNews.com, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Eli graduated from UC Santa Cruz and grew up in San Francisco.