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Oakland Police Chief's Troubles Resemble Those of Her Past

Anne Kirkpatrick has been facing tough questions about her honesty and commitment to reform — just like she did in her last job as chief.

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In the press conference announcing her appointment as the next police chief in Oakland, Kirkpatrick touted her longevity in police chief positions — five years or more in each of her three stints — and said, "I, in each case, left because of another opportunity when I think, as a whole, people were asking me to stay." However, when she announced her impending departure from Spokane in 2011, she told the Spokesman-Review, "I have nothing lined up. I have no application anywhere... I'm a young woman, and I have new chapters I want to explore."

Asked about the discrepancy between these narratives and other questions about the troubles in Kirkpatrick's time in Spokane, OPD provided a two-page statement saying in part, "Chief Kirkpatrick had reached the denouement of her self-imposed 5-year tenure as Chief of Police when in September 2011 she was recruited to teach leadership classes for the FBI." Responding to a follow-up email asking why she told the Spokesman-Review she had "nothing lined up" if she had already been recruited as an FBI instructor, OPD officials said she was still considering practicing law privately and "did not want to make any long-term commitments."

Verner disputed that Kirkpatrick may have been forced out of her role as chief, saying in an email, "I can assure you Chief Kirkpatrick was doing a fine job in Spokane, and her departure for better opportunities was entirely of her own choosing." OPD also said the incoming deputy mayor in Spokane had asked whether Kirkpatrick planned to stay on as chief. Condon, who defeated Verner and remains Spokane's mayor, did not respond to a request for comment.

Reforms implemented in Spokane under Kirkpatrick were limited. The main effort under her tenure was the appointment of a police ombudsman. But that step was directed by the city council, not her.

Kirkpatrick's policies also didn't lead to any decline in officers' use of force: There were 126 use of force incidents in 2011 compared to 119 in 2006, according to data provided by SPD. Use of force incidents did drop to as low as 80 in 2008 but remained high in 2012 with 125.

When the voluntary Justice Department review was completed in 2014, it did not name Kirkpatrick, but was sharply critical of department leadership during her tenure. Regarding the Zehm incident's continued impact on SPD, it stated that it "is likely due to the minimal actions taken by the department in the six years following the incident. Although the department had two chiefs — one of whom was an interim chief — during 2006–2012, little was done to repair and mend the turmoil this incident caused both internal and external to the department." Kirkpatrick was chief for all but about six months of that period.

Rick Eichstaedt, director of the Spokane-based Center for Justice, which brought a civil lawsuit on behalf of Zehm's family, confirmed that substantial reforms only happened in Spokane after Kirkpatrick's departure, saying they were a result by efforts by the new police chief and mayor, the Justice Department review, community pressure, and the settlement of the lawsuit in the Zehm case. "Kirkpatrick had nothing to do with it," he said in an email. "Frankly, there was a sense that change could occur after she left."

But Pierce Murphy, former police ombudsman in Boise, Idaho, who visited Spokane as a consultant, attributed the lack of reforms under Kirkpatrick mainly to pushback from the strong police officers' union. "My impression was she was very committed as a chief to bringing about reform," Murphy said.

Kirkpatrick did face a troubled relationship with the officers' union in Spokane, which took a vote of "no confidence" in her leadership in 2010. At her first Oakland press conference, she was asked about the vote and called the results "fraudulent," encouraging reporters to "do your homework." She was referring to a vote tally obtained by the Spokesman-Review that indicated that while the union voted 112-79, about 80 members had abstained.

To accomplish real reform in Oakland, Kirkpatrick will have to contend with a similarly strong police officers' union and a department with entrenched problems. An investigation ordered last year by then-U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson found that OPD commanders had botched the sex abuse investigation at every level. It led to the departure of police Chief Sean Whent, opening the job up for Kirkpatrick, who had been a finalist for the police chief job in Chicago and was hired to assist reform efforts there.

In a status conference for OPD's federal reform case in October, civil rights attorney Jim Chanin, one of two lawyers who brought the original case in 2001 that led to the long-running reform effort, expressed concerns that command staffers were not being held accountable to the same extent as line officers. Chanin was referring to Kirkpatrick's decision to promote the commanders who botched the investigation of the sex abuse scandal and allowed the young victim, Celeste Guap, to destroy evidence. But Kirkpatrick defended the promotions. "I was looking for men and women of good character," she said. "These promotions were mine to make, and I made them."

After the August ICE raid in West Oakland, Kirkpatrick and OPD maintained that the case was a "human trafficking" investigation. But there is no public evidence of human trafficking having occurred. And at a public forum on Sept. 6, Kirkpatrick said criminal charges had been filed in connection with the raid. But that statement was false. While two people were detained in the raid, one was later released and the other has been charged with no crime but is facing deportation.

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