Fired chief asks DOJ to investigate department's federal oversight

“I am truly, deeply concerned about these 17 years of federal oversight. Something is wrong.”


Megan Cassidy
San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. — Anne Kirkpatrick had nearly finished packing up her downtown Oakland apartment Sunday evening when she stopped to discuss her unceremonious exit as Oakland’s police chief. She’ll soon be moving back to Seattle, she said, but Kirkpatrick’s not leaving the Bay Area without a fight.

Speaking for the first time to news outlets since the Oakland Police Commission voted Thursday to dismiss her without cause, Kirkpatrick fired back at her critics and said she’s weighing her legal options. She also intends to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate a federal court’s oversight of the city’s force.

Former Oakland police chief Anne Kirkpatrick is preparing for next steps after being unceremoniously fired from her position. (Photo/TNS)
Former Oakland police chief Anne Kirkpatrick is preparing for next steps after being unceremoniously fired from her position. (Photo/TNS)

Kirkpatrick, 60, became the latest Oakland police chief unable to shake the now 17-year hold federal monitors have had on the department, ever since the “Riders” scandal of the early 2000s exposed pervasive racial profiling and abuses by a group of officers in West Oakland. The oversight, which was supposed to span five years, has now outlasted 10 police chiefs and 500 officers. Four mayors, two federal judges and two monitoring teams have also taken part in the process.

“I am truly, deeply concerned about these 17 years of federal oversight,” Kirkpatrick said. “Something is wrong.”

Kirkpatrick, who was hired three years ago by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, has enjoyed consistent support from city leaders, police union officials and the rank-and-file. But she has publicly clashed with the court-appointed monitor, Robert Warshaw, and even more notably members of the Police Commission — the civilian-run watchdog group that was approved by voters in 2016 and decided to terminate Kirkpatrick.

The chief’s firing came as a shock to many city officials, but the decision followed months of closed-door meetings by the seven-member commission. Schaaf, whose approval is required to fire a chief without cause, said she signed off on the commission’s unanimous vote out of respect for the community.

Kirkpatrick said she was surprised when the mayor informed her she was being fired, and “absolutely outraged” by the commission’s handling of her ouster.

“I think, obviously, they were trying to get ‘just cause’ ... and they couldn’t get it,” Kirkpatrick said of the closed-session meetings. “So, I guess that’s why I got fired without cause.”

Kirkpatrick, who would receive a full year of salary and benefits if she agrees not to dispute the termination, defended her tenure in a wide-ranging interview Sunday, pointing to lower crime rates and a decrease in racial disparities in police stops. But she unleashed grievances with the way commissioners described her performance.

“When I was hired, I was given a mandate to reduce crime, stabilize the department, shift culture (and) have police accountability,” Kirkpatrick said. “I have met those mandates. And I’ve exceeded them.”

A confidential report recently made public indicates animosity between Kirkpatrick and Commissioner Ginale Harris as early as September 2018. At that time, Harris allegedly demanded Oakland police reimburse her for towing fees, flashed her commissioner badge and demanded to speak to Kirkpatrick, according to the report, which was completed by a private investigations firm and submitted to Oakland’s human resources department.

Kirkpatrick refused to give Harris “special treatment,” the report said, and the chief was “concerned about retaliation” at the time.

When asked about the report, Kirkpatrick said it was “one of the things” her legal team will be looking into. Harris could not be immediately reached for comment. Commission Chairwoman Regina Jackson called the report’s allegations a “falsehood.”

Though the city saw an uptick in crime in 2019, the previous three years were marked by an overall decrease in violent and property crimes when combined. Though 2020 statistics are incomplete, Kirkpatrick said this year’s homicide numbers are on pace for a 64-year low.

City officials are not required to publicly state their reasoning for Kirkpatrick’s termination because it was done without cause, but interviews with commissioners and community activists suggested Kirkpatrick withheld information from the oversight authority and allowed reform efforts to backslide.

The department must check off more than 50 “tasks,” as well as numerous subtasks, before it can escape federal oversight. After starting 2019 with just three unfinished tasks, Oakland police finished the year with eight partially or fully opened tasks after Warshaw said the department lost ground on reforms, including internal use-of-force investigations.

A major point of contention stemmed from the department brass’ handling of the fatal police shooting in 2018 of an armed homeless man named Joshua Pawlik. While Kirkpatrick and internal investigators largely exonerated the officers involved, the case drew condemnation from Warshaw and commissioners, who said the department overlooked damning evidence against the officers.

Kirkpatrick said she was on the cusp of full compliance before her firing, and as recently as three weeks ago Warshaw told her the department was “deep in the red zone,” she said, referring to the area inside the 20-yard line before a football touchdown.

Jim Chanin, an attorney for plaintiffs in the “Riders” case that prompted the federal monitoring, recently said it was “remarkable” how the department had reduced both officer stops and racial disparities in recent years. The compliment was a rare one from the frequent police critic; recent figures show African Americans were the subject of 7,255 Oakland police stops in 2019 — a 62% reduction from the 19,185 reported incidents in 2017.

Chanin said Kirkpatrick’s termination might have had more to do with the chief’s ongoing tension with commissioners. The animosity erupted late last year in a heated argument between Kirkpatrick and commissioners over hiring black women at the department.

“Some people actually don’t like to be yelled at,” Chanin said. “If the unanimous Police Commission can’t work with her, and we’re moving backwards in compliance, then it’s not a matter of, ‘did I want her to be terminated.’ ... We have to get this (case) over with.”

Kirkpatrick said she knew turning around the embattled department would be an uphill fight, but felt she rose to the task. The former chief said there’s been a major culture shift during her tenure that is celebrated in law enforcement circles.

Ultimately, Kirkpatrick said she was most disappointed because she won’t be able to finish the job of getting Oakland free from federal oversight.

“I didn’t want to leave, and I still don’t want to leave, to be frank,” she said. “But no regrets at all.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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