The Oakland Sisterhood

Women hold every top leadership job in the city’s bureaucracy. Plus, Libby Schaaf’s mayoral staff has six women in senior roles.


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Photo by D. Ross Cameron

Anne Kirkpatrick was sworn in as Oakland's first female police chief on Feb. 27 by Mayor Schaaf.


Female Brass

A no-nonsense chief. An experienced reformer. A believer in community policing. These leadership qualities earned Anne Kirkpatrick high marks from communities in Spokane, Seattle, and Chicago, where she previously served. In hiring Kirkpatrick as the first female chief of the Oakland Police Department, Mayor Libby Schaaf clearly hopes Kirkpatrick will take OPD in a new and improved direction. For her part, Kirkpatrick, who was officially sworn in as chief on Feb. 27, said she came to Oakland because her goal is “to lead an agency that wants to be transformed, and OPD meets that profile.” But does Kirkpatrick really have what it takes to reshape a department that Schaaf once likened to a “frat house”?

Not only has OPD been under federal court oversight for 14 years, but the department reached a low point in its history in 2016 with the sex abuse scandal involving a teenage girl and dozens of officers that resulted in the ouster of former Chief Sean Whent.

In a recent interview, Kirkpatrick said she believes she has the skills to move OPD in a positive direction, not necessarily because she’s female, but because she’s a seasoned chief with plenty of leadership experience. “The way we need to approach this is by saying, ‘We own this event, we have taken care of that event, and we are moving forward with all eyes looking forward,’” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick said her primary objective for her first 100 days is to meet face to face with each of the 700-plus sworn members of OPD. Noting that the department is a large organization and that she was born and raised in Memphis, she said, “So, here I am, an outsider, and I come in and I have rank, but that doesn’t mean people will follow me, so, if I am a leader, then I have to have a relationship with them, because people don’t follow people that they don’t know.” 

Kirkpatrick, who has decided to live in Oakland and says she plans to stay in her job for at least five years, also promises better relations with the community. “This is relationship-building between me and the public—through you,” she noted.

The new chief also aims to clarify the department’s goals. “Everybody has got to know where we are heading, so they know where the goal line is and what is the plan to get there. Her vision? “The directive of the boss who hired me and said, ‘Kirkpatrick, you have one mission: Make Oakland safer.’”

Kirkpatrick also intends to complete the remaining tasks outlined in OPD’s federal consent decree and work to make the department’s training, policies, and equipment the best in the country. “Every organization needs a champion and that means changing the conversation and cheerleading your team on,” she said.

Kirkpatrick said that in her 35-year career, she has seen “major evolutions” in law enforcement, including more women, more technology, and more partnerships with fellow agencies and fellow police departments. “I wasn’t in the first group of women brought into the force; I was in the second tier,” she said. “And now, because the younger generation is accustomed to their mothers working, having a female boss is no big deal.”

Kirkpatrick’s own decision to become a cop in the early 1980s was born of necessity. “Unlike 90 percent of our officers, who knew at an early age that they wanted to be police officers, I did not know any police officers growing up, and I did not think about being a police officer,” she said. Instead, policing came her way as a work opportunity. “I’d graduated from college with a degree in business administration so I had no mindset for criminal justice,” she said, noting that an economic recession influenced her choice. “What I thought I was going to be doing, coming out of college, was going into the hotel industry. But the travel industry fell off because of the recession, and it just led me to start looking in the newspaper for jobs, and I saw that the Memphis Police Department was hiring.”

As it happens, Kirkpatrick’s hometown shares a lot with Oakland: “Both Oakland and Memphis have had back-to-back decades of being in the top 10 most violent cities. And that is a pattern that has to change. Why is it that other cities, much larger in size, are not subject to such violence? Why does violence prevail in a city like Memphis or Oakland? That’s the pattern I want to disrupt.”

Kirkpatrick also believes strongly in community policing. “Certain cities have better relationships with their officers than other cities and police departments,” she said. “But I know residents of cities typically want to love their police department; they typically want to love their cops. I think we can get there here in Oakland.”

Sarah Phelan

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