Oakland Police Lt. on prolonged leave provides words of inspiration: 'Looking backward, moving forward'

Editor's note: What follows is a personal writing of an Oakland Police Lieutenant, Joseph Turner, who has been on administrative leave from the department for one year and one month due to an ongoing investigation for accusations against him. The same investigation has put several other high-ranking officers on leave as well, and ultimately resulted in former Chief LeRonne Armstrong's firing.

Armstrong has recently filed a lawsuit, claiming that Mayor Sheng Thao fired him for retaliation after Armstrong spoke out against the federal monitor, Robert Warshaw. Oakland has been under consent decree, being watched by federal monitors for over two decades, with no end in sight. Armstrong had mentioned that Warshaw appeared to be operating under the purview of personal gain rather than transparency for the department, as he and his team are paid approximately $700,000 per year.

Chief Floyd Mitchell, formerly of Lubbock, Texas, was selected this week as the next Chief of Police in Oakland. 


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[The recent] news that Mayor Thao selected a new Chief Executive for OPD made me think about a lot of positive possibilities. I’m very happy for Chief Mitchell, and for my co-workers – both sworn and professional staff – who have been waiting a long time for stability and permanence at the top of the organization.

I’m especially excited for many of the opportunities that this presents to the Department and City, such as:

·         The opportunity to move towards re-writing the toxic narrative that pervades much of the public discourse around the Department;

·         The opportunity to re-invest in the employees of the Department, creating a culture of learning, development, and accountability (a function of consequences plus growth);

·         The opportunity to chart a new path for the Department and City, after a generation of oversight;

·         The opportunity to engage in real conversations about what leadership, service, and public safety should mean, with a huge group of stakeholders ranging from officers to community members to elected officials to advocates from all walks of life.

Thinking about all the possibilities that lie ahead for the Department also creates a lot of swirling emotions for me – especially sadness. It has been one year and one month since I’ve been able to put on my uniform and perform the service, to my community and my colleagues, to which I dedicated over 15 years of my life. 

I recently spoke with a Chief of Police who exemplifies the type of leadership to which I aspire. One of the things she told me which resonated and which I have been trying hard to hold myself to is to not be bitter. This is much more difficult than it sounds, but I’m hoping that exploring the sadness I’m feeling about how things have transpired since I was placed on leave on February 3rd, 2023, will help me keep from letting that sadness turn into bitterness.

I must tell you – I am profoundly sad. I am sad I have missed the opportunity to serve my community for over a year. I am sad that I wasn’t able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my colleagues, in uniform, after we lost Tuan Le. I feel sad when I think about missed opportunities – the chance to get promoted from my spot at the top of the Captain’s list, the chance to attend the FBI National Academy, the chance to welcome the new Chief of Police and put myself forward as a person who wants to take on the burden, challenge, responsibility, and honor of leading our staff by serving in the leadership team of the Department. 

I am sad I have missed so many chances to simply be next to my co-workers, doing anything from just taking a call for service, to visiting the crime lab, to spending time with our dispatchers – anything to show them how important they are to me and to model the type of service to our community that I know they can and will provide. And there are days where that sadness overwhelms me, and I can feel it turning towards bitterness.

So instead of allowing that sadness to ferment into bitterness, I want to end this note with a list of all the things I have been able to do with this time away.  It is sometimes hard to see, but the future is bright, and it can be wonderful – whether it is back with OPD or somewhere else.

This past year, I have had the wonderful opportunity to engage in depth with the scholarship around management, strategy, and leadership, learning from the fantastic Professors in Michigan State’s Broad College of Business. I’m looking forward to completing my Masters in December and cannot wait for the opportunity to put the lessons I’m learning into use.

I am now in my second year tutoring children with Reading Partners at Fruitvale School, and I’ve seen first-hand the dedication of the Reading Partners staff (shoutout to the AmeriCorps coordinators and volunteers), the other tutors, and the children who are an absolute joy.

I’ve had the honor to meet and become friends with the Principal of Allendale School and get a chance to watch the Allendale Family turn policy into action every month at the School Site Council. I see the OUSD parents, teachers, and staff at Allendale (Go Tigers) as a microcosm of the spirit that can overcome any obstacle.

I’ve watched as another person who I have so much respect for not only persevere in building her own brand but also take the time to care for herself, her family, and me, persisting in spending time and emotional energy helping me think about all kinds of different leadership, organizational, culture change, and justice challenges nearly every week.

I’ve gotten so many calls and texts and coffees with people who I care about and who care about me from OPD and beyond.  It’s hard enough as an introverted person to get out of the house, and even more so under these conditions, but I cannot say enough about the persistence of these people.

Not only will I always appreciate the way they’ve reached out even when I’ve been ensconced at home, I will try to pay it forward by doing the same thing for others who are struggling.

I’ve gotten engaged, gotten a wedding date with my wonderful fiancée, and gotten a set of golf clubs, finding the joy in learning something new and trying to find the patience to let a new skill develop. 

I’ve gotten a different appreciation for how difficult journeys like this can be and gotten a new perspective on the possibilities that are terrifyingly unknown but also full of promise. 

I know there will always be good and bad days, but I know that letting these things out is a start on the journey of overcoming bitterness and instead embracing what’s next. I’m so appreciative of everyone who has given their support, and I cannot wait to be part of the next chapter.

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The opinions reflected in this article are not necessarily the opinions of LET
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