Following hours of heated public testimony Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council voted 7-1 in favor of a controversial $250,000 contract to hire six law enforcement consultants, including Robert Wasserman, who has worked for the US State Department and the United Nations, and former New York City Police Commissioner and Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, to develop a policing strategy in Oakland that Police Chief Howard Jordan called a “roadmap to making the city safer.”
The contract for the group, called the Strategic Policy Partnership, calls for focused community engagement and neighborhood policing, faster officer response times to neighborhood emergency calls, prioritizing crime investigations, an improved internal affairs complaint process and implementing CompStat policing, or Computer Analysis of Crime Statistics, a program through which officers use crime data to identify problems and patterns. Developing this program is expected to take six months.
Jordan said Tuesday night that the department’s “crime-reduction strategy” also includes ramping up other efforts which are already underway, including Operation Ceasefire—a nationally-renowned violence prevention strategy that targets a small number of violent offenders in the city and offers them a choice to either stop committing crimes and get help, or face targeted attention from the police department
The strategy also calls for the further implementation of Measure Y, a comprehensive 10-year, $19 million crimefighting approach passed by voters in 2004, which funds violence prevention programs and adds “problem-solving” officers to the streets. The department is also working with a court-appointed compliance director to oversee the remainder of 51 departmental reforms ordered in the wake of the Riders scandal, in which officers were accused of planting evidence, beating suspects and making false reports.
“We understand the magnitude of this issue,” Jordan said to the council, adding that the six consultants coming in to assist the Oakland Police Department are “some of the best minds in law enforcement.”
Jordan added: “I expect results.”
Nearly 300 community members came out to speak Tuesday night, filling three extra meeting rooms at City Hall, where the meeting was televised on separate screens. Some said they supported the hiring of the police consultants, while some said they feared that Bratton, in particular, would enforce a police practice called “stop-and-frisk,” one tactic used by the New York Police Department under Bratton’s watch. The procedure gives police officers the ability to stop an individual who is suspected of having committed a crime, is in the process of committing a crime, or is about to commit a crime, and ask him or her questions. If law enforcement has a reasonable fear of injury when stopping the individual, the officer can frisk the person in question.
Bratton was criticized for his tough policing tactics in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, amongst other cities. But an Oakland city staff report presented to the council by Jordan stated that under his watch, Bratton “established a reputation for re-engineering police departments and fighting crime in the 1990s.” In New York, in particular, Bratton is credited with the largest crime reduction in the city’s history. In Los Angeles, “a city known for its entrenched gang culture and youth violence, he brought crime to historically low levels, with serious crimes down 33 percent and homicides down 41 percent,” from 2002 to 2009 when he served as police chief, according to a city staff report.
Some speakers said stop and frisk has been associated with racial profiling, because African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be stopped, they said. An informal report by the New York Civil Liberties Union also stated that African Americans and Latinos are unfairly targeted under stop-and-frisk.
Nkrumah Zazaboi, 33, an Oakland resident who said he’s been a target of racial profiling, said officers “stopped and frisked” him after he finished a run around Lake Merritt last year. He said he was sitting in his car, and officers took him to the police department because he refused to take his keys out of the ignition. “This is my experience with stop-and-frisk—and yes, it is racial profiling,” Zazaboi said.
“We’re desperate for help,” said Jessica Hollie, 29, who lives in the Fruitvale. “But this type of practice criminalizes everyone. We need to redirect our focus to these programs that are getting shut down because of lack of funding.”
Other residents agreed, adding that after-school activities, as well as programs aimed at reducing recidivism, and creating more job opportunities in Oakland are better solutions to reducing violent crime. “Stop and frisk is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Oakland resident Denise Mewbourne, adding that she is worried about increased incarceration, snowballing lawsuit payouts from suits resulting from police wrongdoing, and reduced emphasis on school programs. “This is not the direction that the community wants to go.”
Adam Blueford, whose 18-year-old son Alan was shot and killed by an Oakland police officer in May 2012, also came out to speak Tuesday night. “My son was racially profiled before he was murdered,” Blueford said. “It’s important you guys take a really hard look at this item, because to ride up on someone for no reason at all and take their rights from them, and to harass them, is really wrong.”
A report released in early October by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office ruled that Officer Miguel Masso had been justified in the shooting.
At the meeting, Jordan and Mayor Jean Quan said repeatedly that Oakland will not tolerate racial profiling. City staffers also presented a report to the council which stated: “The Chief of Police has firmly and unequivocally stated that racial profiling is wholly unacceptable and clearly prohibited by department training, policies and law.”
Mid-way through public comment on the hiring of Bratton, which drew dozens of speakers, District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb introduced three amendments to the original motion to hire the six law enforcement experts, one of which asked that new language be added stating that “that the city of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department firmly and unequivocally stand with our community against racial profiling.”
Supporters of bringing in police consultants also came out Tuesday night. “I have seen our streets and they’re being run by gangs,” said Alonzo Villarreal, 45, who lives and works downtown Oakland. “This may not be the solution in the long term, but in the short term, we need Bratton.”
Several local faith leaders also came out in support of new policing strategies. “We don’t have enough police officers. 911 calls are going unanswered. It is time to do something,” said Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland. “This is out of control—our young black boys are dying. We need Bill Bratton to come in to better protect and serve our community.”
Bishop Frank Pinkard of Evergreen Baptist Church in North Oakland said there is a “climate of violence” in the city, and people are worried about getting home safe at night. He said the city should do whatever it can to stop it, including bringing in outside police consultants. “It behooves us to come together as a city, from the hills to the flatlands,” Pinkard said. “We can no longer tolerate this level of violence.”
Pastor David Kiteley, of Shiloh Church in Oakland, said he also supports hiring Bratton and Wasserman. “Our congregation in the city has experienced crime and death,” he said. “We want to appeal to the city council tonight to hire those that are needed.”
Councilmember Desley Brooks, who represents District 6, was the sole dissenting vote against the contract. She said she was concerned, in part, about what would happen to the city’s law enforcement strategy once help from outside law enforcement is gone.
“I’m getting a little bit concerned that we bring in consultants, we’ve got a compliance director, and a Wasserman contract; we’ve got other jurisdictions in here helping address the issues in our city,” Brooks said. “When all of those people go away, we are back to the same leadership. What will we do after 180 days?”
Lynette Gibson-McElhaney, who represents District 3, said she came to the meeting Tuesday night undecided, but in the end, she put her trust in Jordan’s policies. “Citizens on both sides of this issue agree on one thing: Oakland is in trouble and the Oakland Police Department is in need of fixing,” she said. “We have got to get this right. The [$250,000] we invest tonight must be an investment, and not another expense.”
The consultants will work in two phases, first assessing the department in its current state, followed by drafting a crime reduction strategy and setting targets for outcomes. CompStat will be implemented, followed by departmental training and communication with city political leadership as well as community members to assess what’s working and what’s not.
The city council also swiftly approved three other policing tactics, including a plan to hire 20 civilian police service technicians to help sworn officers with tasks such as patrolling neighborhoods, issuing parking citations, or writing crime reports, for a total cost of $1.6 million. The city will also contract to hire 10 deputy sheriffs from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Officer for 90 days, at the cost of $265,000. The council also voted unanimously in favor of funding another police academy, with 55 new trainees, slated to start in September, 2013.
At present, the city is training a police academy expected to produce 40 new officers, and there is another academy slated to begin on March 25. Those 40 expected officers are not expected to complete training until 2014. Each academy costs $3.3 million, according to city staff, but that doesn’t include the cost of field training, as well as salaries and benefits for the officers who complete training.
Quan trumpeted the addition of the new police academies, and acknowledged that the city has had a problem with racial profiling. “It’s the hardest and it’s the one I care most about,” Quan said of the issue. “I believe that Bratton can help us … but in the end, the responsibility for OPD policy is not his. It is Chief Jordan’s and mine.”
The council also approved regulations allowing mobile food vending operations in Oakland on a temporary basis while the city drafts a permanent policy. The city is working on a policy that balances health and safety concerns for food establishments on city streets, as well as their use of public space and their relationships with brick and mortar restaurants. In the interim, temporary permits were approved.
The council Tuesday night also approved more than $14 million in contracts to replace city lights with more energy-efficient LED lights—a move councilmembers said would deter crime from the most violent neighborhoods.
They also approved adding new zoning elements in the Broadway-Valdez Specific Plan, allowing developers to build new market rate “micro units” above retail establishments in the corridor—a move that permits housing to be added above commercial units.
The next regular City Council meeting is scheduled for February 5, 2013.