If a police chief is going to be able to do what he or she needs to do in order to improve a police agency, he or she MUST have tenure and support of both political and community leaders.
What happens when that doesn’t occur? Read the following piece from Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
“It’s Groundhog Day in Oakland, CA: Another day, another police chief in Oakland. You’ve probably heard that the Oakland Police Commission fired Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick without cause. The mayor praised Anne for bringing down violent crime, reducing officer-involved shootings, and moving forward on racial issues – and then joined the commission to fire her.
“Over the last decade, Oakland has had four police chiefs, plus four interim chiefs. The Police Department has been under court oversight for 17 years — under four mayors, two federal judges, and two monitoring teams. I can’t think of another major city that has experienced this level of upheaval.
“What makes Oakland such a difficult place to manage? Unlike any other city in the country, Oakland has been under a locally-generated consent decree (not one brought by the U.S. Justice Department), with a court-appointed monitor (a former police chief) in charge of overseeing the police department. Anne Kirkpatrick and her immediate predecessors had the responsibility, but not the authority, to make changes. Meanwhile, the monitor has the authority, but not the responsibility, for what happens. There is an inherent conflict that puts the police chief in a nearly impossible position to carry out the very changes that everyone agrees are needed.
“The Oakland Police Department is a very different agency from what it was 17 years ago when the consent decree was enacted. Substantial progress has been made in implementing reforms, to the point that the department seemed to be in the final stages of complying with the consent decree. The latest change at the top will likely delay the achievement of that goal once again.
“One also has to wonder who Oakland will be able to recruit to be its next police chief. Given the current convoluted oversight system, plus the history of instability and turmoil at the top of the department, finding a change-agent to keep the department moving forward (and getting out from under the consent decree) will not be easy.
“Certainly, the situation does not seem to be benefiting the Oakland community. Its citizens deserve a chief who has the responsibility and the authority to make the necessary reforms, without having to face the second-guessing of so many different bosses.”