Thank You Oakland City Government!

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I know the headline of this blog is shocking-and if you’re one of those people who believes government can’t do anything right-you might want to stop now. To paraphrase a friend-intelligent and radical young leader, Dannette Lambert, I believe in government-it gives us things like schools, hospitals, healthcare and-regulations against harm.

I’ve written a lot on the current Oakland City Council, that they can’t build coalitions, that they don’t want to step out and lead. I’m not rescinding those critiques, not yet. They are overall a moderate group but they have heard the roar of our communities and coalitions for change-well, you’d have to be deaf not to but-wait!

Wait-I’m doing it again when I want to thank them for stepping out of their comfort zones to struggle around the police accountability measure, ultimately placing a really unique proposal for the voters to decide on this November’s ballot.[PS.the measures for renters’ protections are no chopped liver either-they are real change.]

Time to Correct the Record-

Last night quite a few folks denounced the measure and said they wouldn’t support it because they found it deficient. Some of their conclusions were correct and some were incorrect but I can’t agree that it won’t make some people’s lives better because it will. It may even save some lives and that counts as worthy of doing to me and the folks I’m working with.

Some of us have been in so many meetings with council members in the last couple of weeks that perhaps we were a bit shell shocked last night after the roller coaster ride of change, compromise, and confusion. We forgot how much we won and why it is so important.

Writing and Researching the Measure-

We should have acknowledged the importance of the moment and spent more time thanking everyone involved so let’s do it now. I especially want to thank the folks who researched and wrote this unique measure, by which I mean the Coalition’s version-Larry White, an attorney and more recent arrival to Oakland, of course Rashidah Grinage, Mary Vail, long time police accountability stalwart, Paula Hawthorn MOBN member, Susan Shawl Wellstone and CPRB member, Nate Dewart of Black Men/White Men (in addition to writing and posting the petition!), and Saied Karamooz.

More thank yous

Jason Pfeifle did yeoman’s graphic and web work along with Sandra Tasic, quite pregnant at the time. Joel Tena contributed heavily to messaging. Len Raphael was our financial wiz who along with Jose Luis Fuentes set up our official organization with the state. Allene Warren, Ann Janks, and Sheryl Walton worked hard to recruit other organizations and to relay the nuances to them. Carroll Fife supported us with the Oakland Justice Coalition as did April Thomas, Nicole Dean, and Deb Avery , and Millie Cleveland(Cat Brooks was there for us also but I believe she is unable to support the current iteration.) Tonya Love is a communications’ treasure in her own right.

Josie Camacho, head of the Alameda Labor Council, joined SEIU leaders Gabriel Haaland, Gary Jimenez and Rachel Richman-Local 21- who worked long hours to help us make this right with Labor with special notice to their union, Local 1021, long time Coalition members who showed up en masse to speak at council meetings.

As for me I want to acknowledge the tremendous support the Coalition and I personally received from The Block By Block  Organizing Network and the Wellstone Democratic Club-so many members, in addition to those listed above showed up to every  council meeting and waited hours to speak-Sharon Rose, Floyd Huen, Margaret Cunningham, Gen Katz, Mike Davis, Rich Johnson, Kit Vaq, Cathy Leonard, Eileen Benevides, Jean Quan, and Berkeleyite Jack Kurzweil-Wellstone also funded snacks for all participants at the council meetings-no small thing. Sorry, if this list is too long but that’s how it’s done in coalition work. There will be many not listed and for that I’m sorry, truly.

Brief summary of what this measure will do from Ms. Grinage-

“This proposal changes the City Charter, transferring the authority to impose discipline on police officers from the City Administrator (who reports to the Mayor) to a Police Commission made up of Oakland residents. This is a fundamental change in power.

The Commission will also be able to influence policies and practices that will include the issues raised by video footage of incidents, privacy and surveillance, use of force, racial profiling, and so on. They will be able to make recommendations on the budget request submitted by the Police Department to make sure that resources are used in a way that is consistent with the priorities of the community.

The investigative agency director does have access to the personnel records of officers accused of misconduct and can take that history into account when deciding on appropriate discipline. These are all major shifts.

As Larry White said, “I think a lot of confusion was caused by the format of the text that was voted on.  There were two sections (g). One was the deleted text.  Both were in gray and if you didn’t look closely you might think that all of it was in strikethrough. In fact only the second (g) was deleted text.”

More from Mr. White-“The Agency Director will have access to the personnel records but can only share them as permitted by law. As a practical matter, this is access. The disciplinary part was not struck in the final version. One big thing is that the City Administrator’s role as final arbiter of discipline is eliminated.”

Just the beginning

More from Rashidah Grinage, “This proposal is more than good, but it is not everything we had envisioned. That being said, as we know, every journey begins with a single step. This is a journey to justice for those who have suffered the abuses of the Oakland Police Department for decades, and the Police Commission will be one giant step in this journey.

We are not dismayed and we are not discouraged: we are committed to continuing to challenge the City to alter its relationship with the OPOA so that further changes can be implemented without facing a Court battle. So, for those who seek justice, join us, let’s get this Commission established, and let’s continue with the work that lies ahead!”

The City Council Struggles to Find Consensus-

Council Member Noel Gallo came out early to support the community-driven measure, a surprise, as he had always been seen as a law’n order CM, but he has a big heart and uses it to listen to his constituents. Then Dan Kalb got involved and threw himself and his staffer, Oliver Luby, into it with hours and hours of researching, checking and rechecking what would work and what would get him the votes to put it on the ballot. Without their attention to detail, this measure wouldn’t have made it onto the agenda much less the ballot.

Other CMs who had been skeptical but then began to meet assiduously-Rebecca Kaplan threw herself into it. Annie Campbell Washington went line by line working on what each one meant and how to clarify it. Abel Guillen checked in frequently and Lynette McElhaney held numerous workshops with our folks, eventually becoming a co-sponsor. Desley Brooks lent us her expertise and unique voice from her position as chair of Public Safety, and Larry Reid, long time police advocate, welcomed us into his office, too.

City Attorney Barbara Parker may have gotten a bad rap in a previous blog, as we understand she personally AND her staff worked long and hard on the details. We’re not even sure she did advise removing the pivotal provisions at all. To be honest, our sessions included- confusion, a little back-biting, and yes, some shouting matches as we made our way up and down the halls of city power. But ultimately, everyone including Mayor Schaaf, supported our efforts in some way. Thank You!

Driving home after the vote at 11:30 pm, I couldn’t help but imagine our CMs as characters from the Wizard of Oz. You can decide for yourselves who is which character hmm. And sometimes I think, we the residents who love Oakland so passionately, are both Dorothy and the Wiz, trying to find our way home all the while hiding behind a curtain of our own inability to move ahead together. Maybe we won’t make it to the Emerald City but we can and shall build a better Oakland.

Join the CoalitionforPoliceAccountability.org now!

 

Press Advisory Independent Police Commission Ballot Measure

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Press Advisory

Independent Police Commission Ballot Measure-Sponsored by Oakland City Council Members Kalb and Gallo, Goes to Public Safety Committee on Tuesday

 

Oakland, CA– Oakland Council Members Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo will join the Coalition for Police Accountability [coalitionforpoliceaccountability.org] at a press event, Tuesday, June 14th, at 12:30 pm on the steps of Oakland City Hall. Council Member Kalb, a member of the Public Safety Committee where the measure will be unveiled at 4 pm, said, “We are bringing this community-vetted measure to the ballot to enhance the process for structural reform–reform that cannot come soon enough to OPD. We must assure the public that we are responding to the problems and challenges within OPD with a proposal that is not mere window dressing-setting up an independent Police Commission with real authority-along with effective reforms in the police discipline process to make it more just.”

Council Member Gallo, also a sponsor of the measure and member of the Public Safety Committee added, “My job is to listen to the community I represent and get them what they need. I’m proud of our work with the coalition.”

Berkeley City Council Member Jesse Arreguin will attend the press conference and noted that “We will be voting on a similar proposal Tuesday night at the Berkeley Council meeting.”

A partial list of Oakland community leaders joining the elected officials to speak at the press conference is as follows: Linda Handy, Peralta Trustee, Ben McBride, Director of City Team Oakland and Clergy with PICO, CA, Gwen Hardy with PUEBLO, Carroll Fife, Oakland Alliance, Marilyn Lawson and Allene Warren, Block By Block Organizing Network, Sokhom Mao, former CPRB member, Anne Weills, the National Lawyers Guild, Pastor George Cummings, Imani Church, civil rights attorney Walter Riley, and Trish Gorham of the Oakland Education Association.

The next step in the Oakland process is to push the measure forward to a full council discussion in time to place the initiative on the November ballot. For more information and updates, see Coalitionforpoliceaccountability.org

Contact: Pamela Drake, 510-593-3721pamelaadrake@gmail.com

Rashidah Grinage, 510-306-0253rashidah@earthlink.net

 

 

 

We Want Real Police Reform, Not Faux Fixes

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The Coalition for Police Accountability, a group of community organizations, individuals, and unions [coalitionforpoliceaccountability.org] for police reform, has been working with Oakland City Council Members Dan Kalb, Noel Gallo, and Rebecca Kaplan for months on a measure developed by the coalition over two plus years through research with experts throughout the country, to set up a police commission that is truly independent of political influence while providing community engagement in police policies and transparency in police discipline.

The hard work of these council members has sharpened the work of the coalition and we are very grateful for their leadership.

More recently, Council Members Guillen, Campbell Washington and Reid wrote a separate initiative, and presented it to the coalition last week. Their measure would put the mayor squarely in charge of police accountability and reduce the role of a “commission” to a rubber stamp of the new “independent police monitor”, an additional city administrator hired directly by the mayor and responsible only to the mayor. This new “commission” would have a role similar to the existing Citizen Police Review Board, which despite its best intentions, can do little to discipline any “bad apples”, much less influence police policies.

The measure sponsored by Kalb, Gallo and Kaplan institutes a commission two steps removed from political influence with the power to discipline officers, hire and fire the chief, and research and develop policies on public safety issues and police operations.

In contrast the Guillen/Washington/Reid approach would have the mayor and council directly appoint the “commission” and stipulates that they come from certain professions such as human resources, and surprise, law enforcement. The Citizens’ Police Review Board, weak as it now is, is composed of Oaklanders from all walks of life. Of course, this new “commission” would have no power so perhaps its composition is irrelevant.

There are programmatic elements in the Guillen/Washington approach that the coalition would be willing to include in [enabling legislation for ]the charter change measure, and we are considering those in the lead up to next week’s committee meeting. We cannot, however, compromise the structure of an independent body, a position which has been reaffirmed by three council members.

After 13 years, $30 million in oversight, over $65 million more in lawsuits, it’s time for a serious attempt at reform. Every city that has experienced the kinds of problems Oakland has been through, is now looking to institute a less political, more citizen-oriented approach whereas some of our CMs seem to want to go backwards.

In fact the City of Berkeley has scheduled a review of our measure to consider whether it would work for them and San Francisco is also looking at ways to strengthen the independence of their existing commission. Our next Wellstone Democratic Club meeting on June 23rd, discussion starting about 7:15pm, will focus on these three efforts.

The Coalition for Police Accountability’s measure sponsored by CMs Kalb, Gallo, and Kaplan can be placed on the November ballot by the Oakland City Council. Please sign onto our letter if you would like to see that happen: you can send the letter yourself, call or email your council members to ask that they join the above progressive members on this vote, notify me that you wish to sign, or respond directly to this blog. Pamela Drake-pamelaadrake@gmail.com. But do it soon.

Both measures come before the Public Safety Committee at 4 pm on Tuesday, June 14th  where Chair Desley Brooks will give them a hearing and add her comments-press conference at 11:45 am in front of City Hall in advance of the meeting.

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Dear Council Member____________

Oakland has spent more than 30 million dollars monitoring the Negotiated Settlement Agreement over the Oakland Police Department since 2003 and over 65 million dollars on wrongful death and police brutality lawsuits. How many affordable housing units or police academies could those funds have provided for our city?

As you know, a group of concerned citizens and [30] organizations, known as the Oakland Police Accountability Coalition including the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, the League of Women Voters, SEIU Local 1021, ACCE, the Oakland Alliance, and the Block by Block Organizing Network have discussed the need for a truly independent police commission that could be set up when the current federal oversight ends. The Coalition has researched existing versions, interviewed attorneys, police specialists and sitting commissioners in other cities and come up with a unique new model of police oversight.

Since an independent commission requires a charter change and a citywide election, we are requesting that you join with Council Members Kalb, Gallo, and Kaplan to put this carefully wrought measure on the November ballot rather than substituting a weaker ordinance that does not provide true citizen accountability. A measure that continues to give the mayor or a city administrator the option of declining to impose discipline, for instance, would restrict true police department reform and leave us open for more abuse and additional lawsuits in the future.

This is a good government measure that provides transparency and real community engagement with police operations for all Oakland residents. As progressives, we expect no less from our representatives. We hope you will join with progressive council colleagues to place it on the ballot.

Sincerely,

 

I Am an An Occupy Oakland Survivor & I am Voting to Reelect Mayor Jean Quan-Guest Blog by Joy Newhart

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To my Friends and former Occupiers, please forward this letter,

I am an Occupy Oakland Survivor. I regularly attended the meetings, even caught a cold sitting for long hours on the chilled cement stairs listening to debates about the use of a “diversity of tactics.” I brought food, blankets, and refreshments to the residents of the Tent City, and I attended a huge rally at Laney College that Mayor Quan spoke at supporting the Occupy movement. Then only days later at 4am I got a phone call from a friend telling me the raid was starting.

Armed with my video camera I stood on the front lines as we, the unarmed citizens, watched hundreds of police from all over the region arrive in full riot gear ready for a fight. I was not arrested and managed to avoid the teargas, but I was furious-the friend who called me at 4am still is. Only a few days earlier the mayor and several other city council members had said they supported Occupy. Now people were getting beat up. I blamed Mayor Quan and-though I had voted for her- when I was later asked to help fight the recall I declined. One word “Occupy.”

[Editor’s note: the attempted recall was initiated before the Occupy Oakland eviction by parties who objected to a port commission change and the lack of funding for hundreds more police. It was a combination of more conservative groups who ironically, called for more development at the Oakland Army Base, which Mayor Quan has moved forward. It was not connected with events at Occupy Oakland.]

Then I saw that Mayor Quan was just as furious as I was that Police Chief Jordan had authorized the use of tear gas while she was in the air and out of reach-returning from a trip to D.C. to secure funds for port development. This needs to be re-stated-Chief Jordan authorized the use of tear gas without first getting approval from his boss, and as soon as she landed she ordered the tear gas stopped, but the damage had been done. She ordered an investigation into the department’s actions. This is the first thing Mayor Quan did to “fix the problem.”

The next thing she did had never happened in the history of the Oakland Police Department. Forty four police officers were either fired or disciplined. She made these 44 officers suffer the consequences of their illegal behavior. This is why the Oakland Police Department is resentful and will not endorse Mayor Quan.

Finally, she replaced those officers with recruits trained in the many new police academies she has funded. These new officers reflect the diversity and values of Oakland. I am a West Oakland resident and proud that the new captain of the West Oakland district was raised in West Oakland and is the first woman commander in the department.

The next thing she did was meet with the federal regulator overseeing the federally mandated police reforms, as neither Jerry Brown nor Ron Dellums had bothered to do. She re-invigorated the community policing reorganization model that previous mayors had allowed to stagnate. In many ways these two previous mayors hold a lot of the responsibility for what happened with Occupy because they did not focus on implementing these mandated reforms.

The next thing Mayor Quan did was select Police Chief Whent to head the Oakland Police Department. Prior to Chief Whent’s appointment as chief he was the supervisor of the Internal Affairs Division. Chief Whent was in charge of policing the police and with that background and experience, who better to rebuild the department?

As a result of these reforms and others, violent crime is down over 30% across the city and murders are down almost 50% from 2012. While violent crime is down all over, the decrease is greater in Oakland than other cities.

This is why I am voting for Mayor Quan. She analyzed the problems with the Oakland Police Department and addressed them at their root. She approaches this city’s problems from a socio-economic perspective, not a Law & Order perspective and she’s done all this with four balanced budgets.

You can’t argue with success.

Sincerely, Joy Newhart

Time to Listen to Each Other

From the General Strike, photo by Pamela DrakeEveryone is gearing up for a rough city council meeting tonight; and as a result of last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting, some council members have been sending out notices to their constituents to pack the hall with supporters for 4 public safety measures.

Those council members who have called their constituents to come on down, have failed to explain why they support the Bratton contract with specifics. I’m calling on them to be clear about what Bratton will be asked to do and what he will not be asked to do. I would like someone to explain the interface between the Bratton/Wasserman folks, and what Judge Henderson and his compliance managers will allow given the Negotiated Settlement Agreement which may be the key to this controversy. Is Stop and Frisk equal to racial profiling? If it is, how is it possible Henderson would allow it?

But no one can deny that Oakland as well as some of our surrounding communities is in a public safety crisis. People who live in formerly “safe” neighborhoods have discovered some of the dangers that people who live in East and West Oakland have lived with for a long time.

More people are afraid now than I can ever remember and the list of the dead is growing at an alarming rate. Still, this is not the time to rush into half-baked solutions or to demand  gimmicks-state of emergency, curfews-instead of well-thought out policies.

There is evidence that Bratton and his compatriots have accomplished some good things re crime and community complaints in Los Angeles. But there is also lots of evidence that many Oaklanders continue to experience brutality and harassment at the hands of our police force. Regardless of how one acts at a meeting, or whether the aggrieved parties are making these demands, our local citizenry has every right to demand reassurance when it comes to how new crime-cutting strategies  will affect all members of the community.

We all deserve a real conversation about these issues. We owe it to one another to listen and be given time to change our minds and even change them again. This is an ongoing crisis that demands both long and short term solutions. What it doesn’t demand is dueling crowds, shouting matches, threats of arrest for hecklers or fear mongering by any of us.

I will see you at the Council meeting tonight. I will be demanding answers to these questions and really listening to the responses I get before coming to a conclusion. I hope you will do the same.

Guest Post–We the Policed–by Jan Gilbrecht

Jan Gilbrecht is an Oakland activist who recently attended the Citizens’ Police Academy and worked with other activists to request that the Oakland City Council consider setting up a police commission, a request the  council failed to take action on. In this column, she explains the reasons that the creation of such a commission or body of public oversight has become ever more essential.

                                                                 We, the Policed

Declaration of Independence, United States of America, 1776

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…”

One of the fundamental premises of our political culture is the idea that government exists to secure the rights of the people and must be based on the consent of the governed.  In our system of representative democracy, our elected leaders stand in for us, there to insure that our government exercises its powers – especially police powers – fairly, justly, lawfully and in the interests of the citizenry.

Events of the past few weeks have shown again that that things work backward in Oakland. Our rights and interests are being subordinated to those of a well-organized, well financed (and well armed) group of Oakland city employees, the vast majority of whom don’t even live among us.  Our police department is out of control, and virtually running the city from the narrow perspective of their own group interest.

To me it’s clear:  The council must act now to address our current police and political crisis by putting operational authority in hands of a special interim civilian police commission.  This commission must be given sufficient resources and a strong mandate:  to get us on track to an effective law enforcement program that is equally committed to protecting the civil rights and liberties of Oakland residents.

I attended the Oakland City Council on September 18 to support the grieving family of a young man named Alan Blueford, shot to death last May just weeks before high school graduation by OPD Officer Miguel Masso as part of a “stop and frisk” gone bad.  His family members are pushing for answers in the face of a total stonewall by the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.

The Bluefords were there with a large and diverse group of community and religious supporters. They told the council that the recently obtained Coroner’s report contradicted OPD’s changing versions of events. They also noted that Masso had been hired by Oakland while he was named in a federal civil rights action charging police brutality while he was an NYPD officer. Finally, they demanded that the city provide them with a copy of the police report in Alan’s shooting, which had been promised to them months ago.

With the family at the podium, Larry Reid (in whose District the shooting took place) and City Administrator Deanna Santana said that Chief Jordan was on his way over with a copy of the report. The meeting was adjourned to await Jordan’s arrival, but the break stretched on and on.  Council members circulated through the audience, speaking with the family and supporters, expressing empathy in this horrific situation.  Jordan never showed. The council meeting was re-convened briefly before jeers broke out when councilmember De La Fuente was unable or unwilling to explain why there was no report, no Chief Jordan. [For an account of the meeting and background on the case: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/09/19/searching-for-answers-to-a-police-killing/]

I was astounded. What a snub by Jordan and Santana to the family, the community members who were present, and to the council members who had just publicly promised the report.  But then it got worse.

A few days later – still no report for the family – OPD leaked to the media a rumor that, improbable as it seems given the Coroner’s finding that there was no gun shot residue on his hands, Alan’s fingerprints were found on a gun located twenty feet from where his body lay. [http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Oakland-police-Victim-s-prints-on-gun-3886366.php].  This after the mayor and council had promised the Bluefords that their son would not be slandered in the press.

Then, just when I thought that the OPD leaders couldn’t make themselves look any more like an arrogant, out of control gang of thugs, I read that members of the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) are now publicly attacking a city council member currently running for re-election, over remarks she allegedly made that night to family members and supporters.  An OPD Sergeant and OPOA officer says he heard Rebecca Kaplan compare the hiring of Masso by Oakland after the incident in New York to the practice by the Catholic Church of transferring pedophile priests from one parish to another.

Actually, I find that to be a fair comparison. Masso’s actions and the horrible nature of the incident were well documented [http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/oakland-police-officer-involved-shooting-of-alan-blueford-raises-questions/Content?oid=3295686] .  Whether or not he was acting lawfully when shot and killed Alan Blueford, the question remains: why would OPD would hire an officer who was involved in a case like that?

According to the head of the OPOA, Kaplan’s reported comments were “extremely offensive to all those who wear the blue uniform,” and that OPOA had withheld an endorsement of Kaplan as a result. Sadly, Kaplan is backpedaling and apologizing as fast as she can.  What does it mean that a councilmember can be so easily muzzled? Who will put their foot down when it comes to hiring practices like these?

What a travesty – police officers heavy handedly injecting themselves into our local election in a nasty attempt to shield a questionable cop and a possible murderer.  It’s one thing when a public sector union uses money or muscle to advance its members collective bargaining rights, it’s another thing entirely when they do it to shield an allegedly violent, abusive cop, or to obstruct an honest and open investigation into the police homicide of this young man, thereby increasing the rift between the community and the OPD.  [http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_21630899/opd-accuses-rebecca-kaplan-smearing-officers]

Despite the constant cheerleading efforts on the part of the department and the city, public confidence in the OPD is at an all time low. Oakland is far from homogeneous, but there’s something there for everyone to dislike.  In the OPD we have one of the most highly compensated, poorly administered, and least effective police departments in California [http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/the-high-costs-of-outsourcing-policeandnbsp/Content?oid=3306199] Contrary to OPD propaganda, the recent Frazier Report confirms it is far from the leanest staffed department in the area [http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/cityadministrator/documents/webcontent/oak036236.pdf ; see page 113].  Yet OPD has one of the worst crime clearance rates for homicides and other violent crimes.  And you can forget about even getting an officer to respond to a property crime.

Ten years into a Federal Court monitored negotiated settlement agreement stemming from the horrific systematic police abuses perpetrated over the course of years in West Oakland and brought to light by the Riders lawsuit, the OPD has cost the taxpayers more than $58 million in judgments and settlements because of gross and repeated civil rights violations against members of our own community. Depending on the outcome of a December hearing before Federal District Court Judge Henderson, Oakland could become the first city in the country with a police department placed in federal receivership, even after the millions that have been spent on a raft of outside police consultants and contractors.  The legacy of this is with us now: lawless disregard for our citizenry by the police only breeds disregard for the law among our young people.

Instead of taking seriously the fiscal responsibility that should come with using up 40% of our collective resources, the police budget is wasted on inadequately researched, ineffective technology boondoggles, through-the-roof workers compensation costs, featherbedding that is rampant in Internal Affairs and elsewhere, selected officers who are raking in the highest overtime payments in the state, positions which could be better performed by lower paid civilians that are filled by sworn officers. Instead of siding with the community and making police effectiveness a priority, OPD and OPOA petulantly demand unquestioning support, full control and are constantly lobbying for even more resources. History makes it clear – the OPD cannot reform itself.

That brings us to the subject of City Administrator Deanna Santana, who currently has full authority over the OPD.  Her role has been highlighted recently, both by revelations in the press [http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/deanna-santana-tried-to-alter-damning-report/Content?oid=3341245] , and by her efforts to have federal monitor Robert Warshaw removed by the court based on charges of sexual harassment.  The bottom line is this: whatever the merits of her harassment allegations against Warshaw, Judge Henderson refused to replace him.  This alone should have lead Santana to step down from her role with OPD, given the obvious conflict of interest. In spite of the devastating financial burden it would impose, it appears that no one in city government is making an effort to avoid trusteeship through compliance.

The Police Commission I envision would deal with far more than issues related to complaints against officers and individual discipline, supposedly the purview of our current, badly broken, ineffective Citizens Police Review Board-overhaul of which should also be on the agenda.  We need and have a right to meaningful oversight and input into a whole host of issues, like: curriculum content for the police academy and other training; policing policies and directives, such as crowd control, use of force, stop and frisk and community policing; terms of agreements between OPD and other police agencies; conditions of federal and other grants and their obligations; decisions on major equipment and systems purchases; efforts to cut costs by civilianizing positions, and other means; effective human resources management, including contract negotiations to keep compensation, progressive discipline and working conditions at but not above area standards and intelligence gathering and surveillance activities within our community.  These are the range and types of issues that are addressed by civilian police commissions in Berkeley, San Francisco and a host of other cities.

According to the Oakland City Charter, Section 601. Boards and Commissions: “The Council may create by ordinance such operational, advisory, appellate or rule-making boards and commissions as may be required for the proper operation of any function or agency of the City and prescribe their function, duties, powers, jurisdiction …”  Some may say that the timing is bad given the upcoming elections.  Some on the Council may just be sitting on their hands and hoping that Judge Henderson will take the problem away through trusteeship.  How about members stepping forward to demonstrate that they aren’t the captives of the OPOA they sometimes appear to be?

It’s not that hard.  Draft an ordinance creating a special commission.  Give it four missions: to increase police effectiveness and maximize resource utilization; to create a culture in which the respect and protection of the civil rights of all our citizens is central to the OPD mission; to develop a permanent model for effective civilian oversight and control of policing in Oakland and to aggressively attempt to find alternatives to the institution of federal receivership over the OPD.

Dive in and recruit five to seven well qualified and committed citizens who can bring expertise in constitutional law, public administration, technology and communications, labor relations or other areas, and who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard for this city – they are out there.  Empower them to hire a civilian Inspector General to oversee, audit and inspect any aspect of the department’s operations and report back to the commission.  Bring the community to the table by holding hearings and soliciting input. Cities like Los Angeles and Detroit have emerged from situations as bad as ours by taking similar paths.

The Blueford family is headed back to City Council on Tuesday, October 2, once again looking for answers.  I’ll be there too, ready to ask our democratically elected council members to take a real stand for change, for Alan and his family, for the crime victims in the hills and the flatlands, for the plaintiffs in the Riders case, for all of us in Oakland, to put our interests first.  I hope that everyone else who cares about the future of Oakland will be there as well. 

 

100 Blocks, Violence Prevention, and the Media, What Do We Know?

I started out to write a blog about the Mayor’s 100 Blocks Initiative last week after attending a presentation by Reygan Harmon, the mayor’s public safety aide, at the Allen Temple Baptist Church. I thought the story was how welcomed this initiative was in a neighborhood severely impacted by gun violence.

Now the issue seems to be, the press strategy the mayor’s office used and why that has fueled the media onslaught against it. If you don’t explain something well or completely the first time, the press will explain it their way even if it’s completely off the mark.

First off, every plan has flaws, but if that plan is not etched in stone (and this one has not been legislated) that means it can be adapted to current conditions either by subtly tweaking it or by broadly revamping it so long as the underlying theory works.

What is the underlying theory of the 100 Blocks Initiative? It is that 1) most of the violence that happens in this city usually happens in certain neighborhoods, 2) most of the resulting death and disability usually happens to certain groups of people, and 3) there are limited resources to stem this violence.

But beyond that, there is a broader question we as a community have to answer. It is-if you are not part of the group or neighborhood most impacted-do you care if we focus our already existing but limited resources- on that problem? Well, do you?

I live in a “safe” neighborhood. I leave my front door open during the day when it is warm and I don’t fear going for a walk-day or night. Yes, it’s true that there’s been a spate of burglaries on my street. I now take precautions when I leave my house, and I try to be aware of my surroundings when I walk. Of course, I know a few people who have been robbed. But do I know many people who have been murdered? Only a couple, and none of them look like me. But my children do look like those folks so I am deeply affected by that.

If you live in a neighborhood which never expected to be impacted by crime, much less violence-when I say violence I am defining it as death or disability, not intimidation-you might be excused for being shocked when any kind of crime touches you. After all, having someone come into your house and take your belongings is a violation of your space and almost, of your person, almost.

But, we as Oaklanders have learned to tolerate the fact that many neighborhoods in our community are regularly violated and that early death is a part of their everyday lives. During the town halls following the mayoral election we said that it was not okay. We said-stop the violence! At a minimum, we believed it harmed our image and our ability to bring in capital. At our most generous, we believed that the destruction was terribly wrong.

Since then two things happened that made us clamor for quick solutions. On the one hand, 3 little children were murdered; on the other property crime and physical intimidation have grown while our police force has shrunk.

At that point, some people who knew very little about how the city is run and even less about the 100 Block Initiative, assumed that the people in the neighborhoods most impacted by violence were getting the services that they, in the safer neighborhoods, were beginning to need.

How did the mayor’s administration approach this concern? Well, I have to say, it fumbled it. It didn’t address it on a visceral level but did shift the Problem Solving Officers back to their original beats. But that was the way the PSO’s were always supposed to be used, deployed where and when needed.

Mayor Quan and her staff have been offering to make presentations on the 100 Block Initiative but that has only reached a small audience. Does any of this remind you of how the Obama administration rolled out their ground breaking healthcare plan?

The mayor and the administration (including OPD and Ms. Santana’s office) could have said, “Look folks, it’s obvious, the same police beats-neighborhoods-have experienced gun violence at a high level for many years. And, we have limited resources to impact them so we are picking the worst ones first,” and simply added “We have lots of already funded law enforcement agencies (federal, state and county) that are working these same neighborhoods because of the ongoing violence, so we’re going to coordinate with them. And, we’ll focus our existing social services in those neighborhoods, and we’ll make sure that our public works department does their job in the areas where dumping is most likely to occur,” because that’s it in a nutshell.

How did the 100 Blocks nomenclature come about? I don’t know but even the Urban Strategies Council study says that about 20% of our extreme gun violence occurs in those blocks and that the blocks surrounding them encompasses at least 50% of it. The USC study uses slightly older data so it may be that it has moved around a bit since then or become more concentrated.

Interestingly, the City had contracted with USC to map out the areas of the police beats with the most stressors, stressors that usually predict violence, when it began to design the Initiative [Creating Promise Neighborhoods Planning Group, March, 2010].

I also know that Chief Batts quit the week that he and Mayor Quan were to unveil the strategy so he clearly had something to do with it [as an aside, if you want to see a good PR strategy, watch Anthony Batts, he’s a master at that, policing- not so much]. I think 100 blocks or 500 hundred, which may have been a better number, sounds like a lot to many of us, so we didn’t really think about it too much.

But we know it only takes a few very destructive people in a small area to create havoc, and the violence is often centered in a few blocks around those dangerous people who actually do the shooting. Those blocks and neighborhoods can rotate, but they remain fairly constant. It’s common sense. Certain parts of West Oakland, a few areas in central Oakland and whole swathes of East Oakland are affected.

But not everyone within those areas, not even the poorest or most chaotic of those blocks, is a violent criminal, far from it. So, maybe the title should be “the 100 blocks where most of the shooting starts even though it shifts between them or the shooting itself takes place somewhere else.” I don’t know-do you like that title, catchey, huh?

So now back to the bottom line of this initiative, put together by the mayor’s staff, the police department, and other agencies and fueled by the demands of residents-it took a pragmatic approach using existing resources and up-to-date data from various intelligence sources; and focused a myriad of services and law enforcement on an area that has always been acknowledged as the most dangerous neighborhoods-beats, blocks, whatever- in the city.

Is it working yet? Don’t know, is it too soon to tell, common sense tells me it is, and neither stats from either the USC or the mayor’s office will convince me that we know much yet. Having heard Reygan Harmon’s presentation 3 times, it seems inherently sensible, multi-pronged, and adaptable to most neighborhoods and conditions, tweakable by new data and ideas, just another way to say it is a common-sense, coordinated, “not rocket science,” (Reygan Harmon quote) approach to an obvious, well-known, decades-old problem.

The Reverend J. Alfred Smith Jr. at his community forum stated, “if a plan has shortcomings…it’s our job to work on it..but we don’t stop,“ and that, “This is a plan I support unequivocally.”

I have a friend who lives in Deep East who called me and said that he was worried that the mayor’s awkward press on this might stymie a strategy that has already made a difference in his neighborhood. He is afraid that city politics might kill what his neighbors need. I hope not.

OPD Needs Real Civilian Oversight–We Need a Police Commission

A coalition of folks are putting together this proposal and asking the City to lend a hand and vote to put this charter change on the ballot for November. The thinking is that now is the time-the threat of a federal takeover is breathing down our collective neck. A takeover would cost us additional funds and take at least 50% of our city budget out of our hands while a Police Commission could be a game changer, offering an opportunity for the community to finally exercise some control over this costly department.

[We will forward the names of supporters and coalition members soon.]

OAKLAND NEEDS A POLICE COMMISSION-Tell your Council Member Now!

Oakland is ten years into a Negotiated Settlement Agreement over police reforms meant to be concluded in five years. The delay in compliance threatens to place the Oakland Police Department into Federal receivership. This will be the first time in U.S. history that any police department has been taken over by the Feds.

The conclusion is inescapable:  the City lacks adequate oversight of its police department. In fact, It is the lack of robust oversight  which gave rise to the serious police misconduct that resulted in the criminal trials of the infamous ‘Riders’ and  the subsequent multi-million dollar class action civil law suit that generated the NSA.  Already cash strapped, Oakland has paid over $58 million in civil law suits in the past ten years – more than San Francisco and San Jose, combined – and millions more in Federal monitoring fees and plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees.

The authority to oversee and impose discipline on the Police Department which the Charter confers to the City Manager (Administrator) is impractical and insufficient. The City Administrator supervises every department head in the City and cannot closely monitor and audit the Police Department effectively. There have been no fewer than five City Administrators during the course of the NSA, yet OPD is still not in compliance with its terms despite successive promises to the Federal Judge from each of them.

Oakland residents should be able to vote on establishing a Police Commission, appointed by the Mayor and the City Council whose mandate would be to oversee, monitor, audit  and influence policy and practices of the Oakland Police Department, won’t you  sign this petition!

If you agree that such a measure should appear on the November 2102 ballot, won’t you sign this petition? Go to http://www.ipetitions.com/widget/view/441808

OO Fatigue (or is it harder just being homeless?)

Okay, I know many of us are suffering from OO fatigue. I told everyone at a meeting I was attending last night on that very subject that I couldn’t discuss it anymore. It’s perplexing that the movement that was designed to confront our frustrations at the 1%, is now frustrating so many of us.

But it does still dominate so many discussions in this town. This morning I got off the bus to attend a Public Works meeting at City Hall on a project that is being built in my neighborhood, a wonderful little plaza, as a matter of fact, where folks can gather in our charming district.

I took out my camera to snap a shot of the amphitheater that was shining in the morning sun and saw a man who I realized was experiencing a seizure. Two people were holding him so that he wouldn’t hurt himself.

As there is seizure disorder in my family, I was not particularly frightened for him so long as he was being protected from injury. After calling 911-by the way, it’s 777-3211 on cell phones so that you don’t get routed through the Highway Patrol-I asked some of the helpers to keep their voices quiet as epilepsy sufferers are in sensory overload after a grand mal and need a long period in a quiet, dark place (unlike an ambulance, but there was the possibility of other injuries).

A seemingly drunk older man who was there argued loudly with me, and a woman who was helping the man remarked that the older man was often difficult like that. The ambulance did arrive soon and take the man away.

I saw another man painting a large banner to string across the plaza demanding that Mayor Quan be recalled and that someone named Derald Harris be elected. I asked who that was and he replied, “Me!”

After the meeting I stopped at a shop on the plaza for a bite to eat and ran into some of the facilitators whom I recognized, chatting, eating, and planning. As they left I asked how they were doing, and one young man replied that he was no longer camping but otherwise still quite involved and doing fine.

The restaurant owner explained to me and another patron that she was upset that during the 2 days the plaza had been closed by the police, she’d had no business as no one was even allowed through.

This owner totally supports OO and said that these are the conditions [the OO encampment] that many people now live in all over the country. She believes it’s good that they are calling attention to so many people’s suffering. She even lets them cook some of their meals in her kitchen. By the way, the occupiers have planted a winter vegetable garden in the city planters.

Vegetable gardens are blooming at the Plaza

I walked over to Snow Park on my way home and found a bucolic scene at the little encampment there. One gentleman who now lives there told me that their group did not want to live in the crowded conditions in which many on Ogawa/Grant Plaza live. I suggested they design their own city planning codes that would limit the number of tents, and he said that they had already done that. He told me that their group sends reps to the GA’s at the plaza but otherwise have their own events and issues, like mowing the grass and taking care of the park. He said that their occupiers, like the ones at city hall, were trying to reach out to local businesses.

I asked him if he would be living in the “streets” if he did not have the camp and he told me that he had been unemployed for 8 months and no longer had an apartment. He said that if they are moved they will set up camp somewhere else.

If you look around Oakland very carefully these days, you will find many sizes and styles of encampments. This is now a reality in our society that no city council or chamber of commerce can stop or apparently prevent.

Man washes his hair in the sun at Snow Park

So tonight, I have no new conclusions to draw or grandiose answers to offer. But, it seems to me that the pressure to close down the OO encampment is building rapidly and has the possibility of taking down a very progressive, solution-oriented mayor as well as resulting in pain to those to whom it has given hope and even to those who revile it.

I keep hoping for a way out of that sad ending and it’s what keeps me visiting, talking and writing about it. I was outside in my front yard as one of my neighbors, a progressive woman who works in the public sector, was walking her dog-I asked, “So what’s the solution (I hadn’t named the problem)?” And she replied, “It’s complicated.”