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Police Commission Chair On Oakland Police Chief Vacancy

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The city of Oakland, Calif., is looking for a new police chief, and the job posting has gotten a lot of attention for its progressive demands - among them, a person will, quote, "eradicate the department's role in racial profiling, implicit bias and structural racism, thereby helping to dismantle mechanisms of discrimination, oppression and violence" - no small task. That job posting was written by the Oakland Police Commission, a civilian review board. And with us to talk about the search for Oakland's new police chief is the chair of the Oakland Police Commission, Regina Jackson.

Welcome.

REGINA JACKSON: Thank you very much for having me.

CHANG: So what would you say are the most critical parts of the police chief role?

JACKSON: Thought leadership, vision, the ability to demand accountability. Obviously, we want them to reduce crime as well, but in our current state, given all of the challenges across the country, police needs to be rebranded, having that police chief be the department's representer to community and the community's representer to police.

CHANG: I'm struck by when you're describing the rebranding of the police department in Oakland that increasing public safety or reducing crime is not foremost among the priorities.

JACKSON: Oh, no. I did say that we definitely want to make sure that crime is reduced as well. But when I think about policing in general - my day job is running a youth development organization. For about 10 to 12 years, none of our young people wanted to grow up to become a police officer, and that is based upon the reputation of police.

And so when we think about a reform-minded leader, we're also talking about rebranding to build community trust, to work with more than just the police mindset in order to make change in the city. And that dovetails and rolls up and downhill because the more police are respected in the most disenfranchised communities, young people want to grow up to be that person. Officers themselves feel better about going into those communities to police.

CHANG: Let me ask you - how much buy-in has the commission gotten from Oakland's police union on the priorities that your job description, as written by the commission, sets out?

JACKSON: I haven't had a direct conversation about the buy-in. What I do know was that in a fairly surprising move, the Oakland Police Officers' Association actually came out in support of a new measure on the ballot in November to strengthen the police commission's powers. So I think they recognize it's better to work with an entity that is not out for blood. What we want is accountability. We are not anti-police. We need the police.

CHANG: So you do feel that you have the backing of Oakland's police union.

JACKSON: Absolutely. I do believe we do. And again, that's without conversation. But if I'm looking at actions, that's what I glean.

CHANG: If the commission does find an ideal candidate and this candidate is chosen by the mayor - someone who not only revamps the police department, who does prioritize violent crimes, serious felonies, but also improves communication with disenfranchised communities - are you concerned that this new chief will work themself out of a job, or is that the goal?

JACKSON: I don't think that that is a bad thing. I would love for us to never need police, but we do. What I would say, though, is that because Oakland is progressive and because we are thought leaders in this space, you know, having had progressive activity, you know, for decades and decades, I believe that this chief would have the opportunity to transform into a more responsible culture such that we will serve as a model for other cities across the state and maybe even across the country. I don't think that's a bad thing. Being able to show how it can be done well is a very good thing.

And to that extent, I mean, I think there will always be some need for police - maybe not as many, maybe in very streamlined areas. But I look at that as growth. I look at it as young people wanting to serve their cities and wanting to grow up and be in these positions to support and protect and defend people.

CHANG: Oakland Police Commission Chair Regina Jackson, thank you very much for speaking with us today.

JACKSON: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.