Oakland Police Commission extends chief's contract, 'surprised' by quality of applicants



The Oakland Police Commission on Thursday extended interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer’s contract to Dec. 8. The move comes after the commission was scheduled to provide Mayor Libby Schaaf with a short list of potential candidates by the end of this month.

The extension allows the commission a longer timeframe to vet a sizable number of applicants. Following a short application window this month, 24 candidates responded to the job description, but the public will not be afforded the ability to vet the short list of potential candidates, the commission announced Thursday night.

“We have been asked by several candidates to keep their candidacy private,” said Regina Jackson, chair of the Oakland Police Commission. “And so, we at this time do not anticipate a community engagement process, but we are still looking at what opportunities might be possible.”

Henry Gage III, a member of the commission, urged for the names of the finalists to ultimately be revealed.

“I understand why they would want to keep it confidential and that members of the public have a desire to vet the people that will be recommended,” he said. 

Public employees expressing reticence about their intentions to seek a job elsewhere is nothing new. Cities often attempt to shield potential candidates for high-profile positions, such as city manager and police chief. 

But filling Oakland’s chief of police position is a unique situation after decades of police misconduct and consistent mistrust of the force. A large number of residents in the city are seeking greater input on the search for a new chief.

The disclosure by the commission made during Thursday’s night meeting was already met with resistance from some members of the public. 

Rashidah Grinage, a longtime critic of the Oakland Police Department, told the commission, “I think it’s extremely important that there will be a public process. Any candidate that doesn’t want to be able to participate in that process, that for me, would be a demerit.”

The number of applicants for the police chief job was a surprise to some commissioners, and nearly equal to the 30 individuals who sought the position in 2016, Jackson said. The commission is continuing with due diligence and background checks, but it has already reduced the number of candidates to an undisclosed number.

“We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the applicants,” said Jose Dorado, a member of the commission, “and the quality of the smaller group we have whittled down to.”

The process of selecting a permanent replacement will be a major test of the Oakland Police Commission’s power following the dismissal of former Police Chief Anne Kirkpratrick’s in February—Mayor Schaaf signed off on the firing after the commission moved to removed her in a unanimous closed-session vote. While the c ommission will not directly select the next chief, they will provide Schaaf with a list of recommendations.

Whoever is named will face a daunting job of reforming a department that has been under the eye of a federal monitor for 17 years since the Riders scandal. In addition, the next chief is likely to serve under the oversight of a police commission that will have even greater powers come next year.

Most political observers predict Measure S1, the charter amendment that allows the commission to hire a civilian inspector general, will be approved by Oakland voters this November.