How the finalists to be Oakland’s next police chief would tackle the job

How the finalists to be Oakland’s next police chief would tackle the job

OAKLAND — The city’s civilian-led police oversight body was expected to whittle down a shortlist of four finalists to be Oakland’s next top cop on Thursday night — perhaps to just a single candidate.

Whoever is selected by the volunteers on the Oakland Police Commission would next be assessed by Mayor Sheng Thao, the final decision-maker in appointing the city’s first permanent police chief in over a year.

The commission, which can pick up to three candidates to send the mayor, is likely to announce the names Friday morning.

On Thursday, the commission conducted Zoom interviews with all four finalists in front of the public before entering a closed-door session to deliberate.

Thao did not attend the forum, having said she opposes the idea of a public interview process because it might dissuade some otherwise worthy candidates from pursuing the job.

In an apparent response, commission chair Marsha Peterson said at Thursday’s forum that the process upheld “integrity, transparency and the power of community engagement.”

Below is a rundown of how the candidates — Louis Molina, Lisa Davis, Abdur Pridgen and Floyd Mitchell — outlined their plans for the Oakland Police Department:

Louis Molina

Molina, who most recently oversaw New York City’s jail systems, including the infamously violent Rikers Island jail, said he had served in the “three main pillars” of law enforcement: a police force, a district attorney’s office and multiple corrections departments.

“I have a macro-understanding of the entire criminal justice ecosystem,” Molina said.

He promised to meet with anyone and everyone in Oakland during his first 100 days. But unlike other candidates, he did not say much about a federal official, Robert Warshaw, who oversees OPD’s affairs.

Molina took heat at his last job from a federal monitor, Steve J. Martin, who last summer scathingly criticized the management of Rikers Island, where eight inmates died in 2023, the New York Times reported.

Molina was also the lone candidate to mention Oakland non-emergency crisis response program, MACRO, saying he’d like it to accept more calls for service that OPD can’t handle — a common refrain echoed by the Oakland police officers’ union.

Lisa Davis

Davis, who grew up in inner city Cincinnati and has served in the city’s police department her whole career, recalled witnessing a violent run-in with police when she was a child.

“I saw my uncle fly over the second-floor banister — they threw him over the staircase,” Davis recounted about the cops who had entered her family home.

But she added another, positive experience with a school resource officer — whom she described as “so kind” — to illustrate her faith that not all cops are prone to misconduct. She noted being particularly eager to meet with Warshaw in her first 100 days as chief.

For Oakland, she promised to identify the areas where “a very small number of people commit the crimes,” promising to figure out what’s attracting the problems in those communities.

“The majority of people in poor neighborhoods, they want you there — they just want police that are fair and just,” she said.

Abdur Pridgen

Pridgen left his job as San Leandro’s police chief amid an investigation into undisclosed allegations against him. It didn’t come up during his interview, but Pridgen emphasized his commitment to a transparent department, even after OPD exits two decades of federal oversight.

He also criticized how “officers are often the only ones held accountable” in misconduct investigations, saying he wants to ensure that higher-ups in the police department won’t get to avoid repercussions under his watch.

“I call it ‘trickle-down’ accountability,” Pridgen said.

It remains unclear why Pridgen was placed on administrative leave in San Leandro, but this is the second time in the span of a couple months that the police commission has shortlisted him for the Oakland police chief job.

Pridgen also interviewed for the post in 2022 before ex-chief LeRonne Armstrong was hired. He took care to mention how close by he lives, saying his son will start school in Oakland this fall.

Floyd Mitchell

Mitchell went to lengths to demonstrate his understanding of Oakland’s law enforcement structure, comparing it to Kansas City, where he served for 25 years, eventually retiring as chief.

The two cities, Mitchell said, both have deliberate citizens’ oversight boards. He said he knows how to work with them.

“I understand the process and all the parties that are involved in the Oakland pyramid,” Mitchell said. “I feel comfortable that I’d be able to… understand that all of us have our individual parts and pieces that we bring to the table.”

Mitchell’s exit from his last job in Lubbock, Texas was linked by news stations in the area to the apparent collapse of the city’s 911 dispatch system — a familiar problem in Oakland.

As with other candidates at the forum, the commission did not question Mitchell about his past job performances, but he emphasized his commitment to data-driven analyses of crime and the social conditions that perpetuate it.

This story will be updated.