By Katie Nielsen

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The City of Oakland is moved forward Thursday night with selecting a new police chief. It comes at the same time the current interim chief is warning about caravans of opportunistic thieves breaking into businesses across the East Bay.

The Oakland Police Commission asked questions of the four Oakland Police Chief candidates for two hours on Thursday night in virtual town hall. The goal was to allow the public to hear from the candidates and weigh in on the decision to select the next chief, which falls to the police commission and Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Deputy Chief LeRonne Armstrong and Deputy Chief Drennon Lindsey are the two internal candidates and the other two are Pittsburgh, PA Police Commander Jason Lando and Seaside Police Chief Abdul Pridgen.

A big topic of discussion was how to regain trust in the community, specifically with minorities and underserved populations.

“This is about reconciliation. OPD needs to apologize for the negative impact it’s had on the community and seek to understand from the community what it’s going to take to gain their trust back,” said Deputy Chief Armstrong.

“It’s so important that we engage with our communities, but that has to be meaningful. It can’t be some of these check the box initiatives,” answered Lando.

“We have to continue to engage our community, receive information and input from the community, and respond to the thinks we’re being asked of from the community,” answered Deputy Chief Lindsey.

“There are opportunities to engage the community in different settings, where they are non-enforcement settings where we build relationships and we see each other as human beings,” said Pridgen.

Topics that were not addressed include the calls from community groups to defund the police, and the policies regarding use of force. Both topics received a lot of attention at departments across the country after the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests. Oakland saw large demonstrations about the issue at the end of May and into the beginning of June.

Just a few hours before Thursday night’s town hall, current Interim Oakland Police Chief Susan Manheimer held a virtual press conference to address the caravans of criminals who broke into a number of marijuana dispensaries and pharmacies on Election Night. It was a topic that also was not addressed during the police chief candidate forum.

“We don’t see this associated with any movement, or any message other than one that is groups and crews grouping together to defeat our law enforcement efforts to abate them,” said Manheimer.

She says these thieves are organized, sometimes in 50-100 cars, and are simply opportunistic. She says they’re taking advantage of times when officers are focusing their attention elsewhere – like during the George Floyd protests or on Election night.

“Our resources were focused more on our areas of demonstration, protests, providing safe places and spaces for our community,” she said. The interim chief says they’re working with other departments in the area to combat these caravans of crime.

The Oakland Police Commission will meet on November 12 to talk about which candidates to move forward in the process.

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