OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- In an emotional ceremony in front of his former high school, Oakland native LeRonne Armstrong was sworn in Monday as his city's Chief of Police after more than 20 years with the department.
Promoted from deputy chief, Armstrong takes over the top job amid a spike in violent crime across the city. Fifteen homicides were reported in January, a 1,400% increase from a year ago and the deadliest January in 20 years. In 2020, Oakland recorded 102 murders, the most since 2012.
Armstrong acknowledged the current crisis in violent crime and vowed he and the department, which has been buffeted by scandal and turnover with 10 police chiefs since 2003, would work to regain the trust of Oaklanders. The department continues to be under federal oversight as part of the terms of a 2003 negotiated settlement stemming from the notorious Oakland Riders police misconduct case.
"Under my leadership, OPD will have a laser focus on getting each task in compliance, while practicing constitutional policing, fair and unbiased treatment of our community. This reflects the strong values of the City of Oakland. Moving the department into full compliance with the settlement is one of my top priorities. But in order to achieve that goal, it requires a cultural change within this organization. And that change starts today," said Armstrong. "Every interaction with by a member of the Oakland Police Department is an opportunity to build trust and legitimacy with our community. OPD will treat members of our community with dignity and respect, under all circumstances."
Armstrong said he shares the grief that victims' families have felt and would always find the time to meet with them. His brother was lost to gun violence in 1985.
"We've lost 15 lives to senseless violence so far this year. I hear the voices of the families. I've shed the tears over the increased violence, as once again grief has even struck my family. One of the people killed was a part of my family," he said. "When a life is lost to violence in Oakland, you will see me in the impacted neighborhoods. I will be getting up, no matter what time it is, to come out to those scenes, to make sure families know that it matters to me when somebody's life is taken."
Armstrong joined the Oakland Police Department in 1999 after four years with the Alameda Community Probation Department. Armstrong also previously served as president of the Oakland Black Officers Association. His wife, Drennon Lindsey, herself a deputy chief in the department, was also one of the finalists for police chief.
"In 1999, I joined the Oakland Police Department and over the last 22 years, I've always made it priority to be grounded in Oakland," he said. "I've always made it a priority to work with churches, community groups and community-based organizations to improve the lives of Oaklanders and our visitors."
The McClymonds High School graduate used the backdrop of his beloved alma mater for his swearing in ceremony Monday, struggling at times to keep his composure as he acknowledged those who influenced him throughout his career and the school that shaped him.
"This is where I grew up. And it wasn't just about a high school, it was about a family. It was a group of people in a marginalized community, that when we stepped into this building, it gave us hope," said Armstrong. "I truly love Oakland. My roots run deep. I was born and raised in Oakland, specifically West Oakland. I still live in The Town and I love being here every day."
Armstrong became especially choked up when acknowledging one special guest at his swearing-in ceremony.
"But there's one lady, one lady that brings me to this moment. She was a single mother, with three children, at the age of 18. She had two jobs and walked us to school, with no car. She told me when I was young, 'Boy, there is something special about you!'" said Armstrong. 'She's been amazing to me. She told me three things: maintain your faith in God, always be respectful and always believe you can that can be anything you want to be. I'm so grateful to you Ma, and today I share this moment with you."
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