In 1970 Saundra Brown was the first black woman accepted for the Oakland Police Department’s Recruits Academy.
I ‘m kind of optimistic”
Saundra Brown December 1970Saundra Brown December 1970
Born and raised in Oakland. She felt she knew the problems of the young here. She said, “in a city like Oakland, with its Black Panthers and militant groups, there is a special need for minority police officers.” She worked with teens during her college days.
Saundra graduated from Fresno College with a degree in sociology. She always had her eyes set on working with juveniles and looked into law enforcement as a possible field. She applied to OPD immediately after her June 1969 graduation. No opening existed.
She was working as a claims adjuster when she heard that OPD was looking for a “black policewomen.”
At that time, a MALE recruit needed only a high school diploma or a score of 262 on a GED course. WOMEN must have a four-year college degree or four years’ experience in law enforcement. She had that.
She attended the same 15 weeks Police Academy as the 22 males in her class. She was expected to compete with the males.
She took courses in criminal law and report writing, first aid traffic investigation, and the Oakland penal code. There were also defensive tactics, involving strenuous activities such as calisthenics, some judo, a little karate.
Oh, I did alright I guess” she laughed. I can throw the biggest guy in the class.
Saundra Brown – December 17, 1970Saundra Brown – December 17, 1970
During the course, she learned for the first time in her life, to handle firearms.
I used to be scared of guns,” she laughed,. “but now I feel safer with a gun in possession because I know how to use it”
Oakland Tribune Dec 14, 1970Oakland Tribune Dec 14, 1970
On December 18, 1970, she accepted her star and the congratulations from Police Chief Charles Gain as the only woman in the police academy of 24.
She finished near the top of her class. She hoped to be assigned to the juvenile division. However Chief Gain had other ideas
As the only minority-group policewoman, she joined a slightly more significant minority. There were 710 men on the force; only 7 women.
At that time, women were not allowed to compete with men for advancement. Fascinated with the legal issues she encountered on the job as a policewoman, Saundra decided to attend law school while continuing to serve her hometown of Oakland as a police officer until 1977.
She served with OPD from 1970-77
Life after the OPD
She then received a Juris Doctor from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1977.
She was a judicial extern, California Court of Appeals in 1977, and was a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California from 1978 to 1979 and from 1980 to 1982. From 1979 to 1980, she was a senior consultant to the California Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice.
She was a trial attorney of the Public Integrity Section of the United States Department of Justice from 1982 to 1983. She then served as a Commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission from 1983 to 1986, and on the United States Parole Commission from 1986 to 1989.
She was a Judge on the Alameda Superior Court, California, from 1989 to 1991.
On April 25, 1991, Armstrong was nominated by President George H. W. Bush to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California vacated by William Austin Ingram. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 14, 1991, and received her commission on June 18, 1991.
She earned a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from the Pacific School of Religion in 2012, and she assumed senior status on March 23, 2012
More on Saundra Brown
- OPD’s First African American Policewoman (1970) – Saundra Brown
- Saundra Scores A Police First – Oakland Tribune Dec 14, 1970
- An Arresting First – SF Examiner Dec 18, 1970
- Coolidge Brown – Oakland Tribune June 6, 1971
- Saundra Brown Armstrong – Biography
- Saundra Brown the first – Rare Historical Photos
- Senate Confirmation – SF Examiner Jun 14, 1991
- Judicial Profile – Saundra Brown Armstrong
- Senior District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong – US Courts