“Community” was the buzzword of the night, as the head of the new Oakland crime consulting team explained a plan for violence reduction that he said would be as reliant on neighborhood participation as on police efficiency.
At a special meeting of the Community Policing Advisory Board Wednesday night at Oakland City Hall, Robert Wasserman called for residents to support the crime reduction strategies being suggested by the consultants, insisting that the plan would only work if everyone in the city took part.
“People have to believe, they have to see for themselves what comes out of this plan. That’s a challenge for us, but we’re going to make it work,” Wasserman said, addressing residents and the members of the board, which serves as a link between neighborhoods and city officials on public safety issues, as well as members of the Measure Y Oversight Committee, which evaluates the programs funded by the 2004 public safety funding initiative.
The town hall style meeting offered Oakland residents the chance to hear from Wasserman, the head of the six-person consultant panel hired by Oakland city officials to help devise both short and long-term citywide crime reduction plans over a six-month period. It was also the second of six such discussions led by members of the consultant group and city officials to gather community input on public safety issues and the crime reduction plan.
Work started on Monday and a plan for a short-term crime reduction strategy will be released in 40 to 50 days for public review before implementation, Wasserman said. The team is currently looking at the use of police technology and how the CompStat process of mapping crime data and deploying officers to areas with the most need will be used in Oakland.
One of the most famous, and most controversial, members of this panel is former New York City and Los Angeles police chief William “Bill” Bratton. Bratton has been criticized for his tough policing strategies, like his support of “stop and frisk,” a tactic in which police officers can stop an individual if the officers believe they are connected with a crime, and frisk the person if officers think he or she has a weapon.
During the meeting, Wasserman expressed support for Oakland’s Ceasefire program, a nationally-known violence prevention program in which people with a known history of gun violence are given the choice to change their ways with community support, or face increased monitoring from law enforcement and prosecutors.
Ceasefire has been used in other U.S. cities with great success, Wasserman said. “It has, in every case, reduced violent crime substantially, but secondly, it has prevented many, many people from engaging in violent crime that results in them getting arrested,” he said.
Wasserman also suggested a call reduction strategy for 911 dispatch to conserve policing resources. Wasserman said Oakland receives more 911 calls for service than any other similarly sized city, but not all of these calls are emergency situations that necessitate an immediate response. Officers are forced to rush from call to call, which leaves little time for neighborhood beat officers to get to know the community, he said. To change this, Wasserman said the city could no longer guarantee that every 911 call would summon an officer.
“If it’s a call that requires emergency response, then the nearest officer should respond,” he said. “Emergencies are related to calls about violence.
Wasserman suggested a reorganization of the OPD’s command structure so each neighborhood would have a captain responsible for and knowledgeable about the community. Greater community involvement in the training and orientation of officers assigned to a neighborhood was also emphasized. Wasserman said the community needs to take responsibility for what officers learn and teach them about their own neighborhoods.
About 80 people, including Mayor Jean Quan, Oakland Police Department Chief Howard Jordan, City Administrator Deanna Santana and Councilmembers Pat Kernighan and Lynette Gibson McElhaney, attended the meeting.
“I’m proud to introduce [Wasserman] because I believe that the long term solution to being more effective … is building stronger ties between police and the community,” said Quan at the start of the meeting.
Jordan also expressed support for Wasserman and the consultants. “This is a process I’ve embraced, this is something I’ve asked for—how do I get the best minds in law enforcement to advise me on how to deal with crime in Oakland?” he said.
But he had one caveat. “Bill Bratton and his team, along with Wasserman and his team, have been very helpful as advisors, but at the end, decisions about how to implement and when to implement will be left up to me,” Jordan said.
Audience members were given the chance to ask Wasserman questions and express concerns, which ranged from OPD understaffing to police brutality, in particular, the incident in which Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was hit in the head by a tear gas canister thrown by an OPD officer during the Occupy Oakland eviction and clash on October 25, 2011.
Olsen attended the event and raised this issue himself. He said he was concerned that the officer had not been reprimanded for his actions. “I still don’t know the identity of the officer,” Olsen said during a public comment portion of the meeting. “For all I know, he could still be on patrol.”
Other residents expressed frustration with the growing amount of crime in the city, and said city officials seemed passive about dealing with it.
Jerry Budin, a 66-year-old Oakland resident, began his comments by stating that he paid for the salaries of all public officials in the room. “I would ask for their kindness in putting down their electronic equipment to listen to me,” he said, as officials fiddled with cell phones or tablets. “I’m tired of having my car burgled. My message to the mayor, to the city administrator, is that you just need to cut people that aren’t involved in law enforcement.”
Members from CPAB and the Measure Y committee were also given the opportunity to ask questions. Nyeisha DeWitt, member of the Measure Y committee, asked where funding for the consultants’ proposed solutions would come from. Wasserman said an exact plan had not been determined, so he did not have figures yet.
Melanie Shelby, another member of the Measure Y committee, asked about overlap between the consultants’ work and that of newly named OPD compliance director Thomas Frazier. Frazier will be responsible for enforcing the last few reforms of the OPD Negotiated Settlement Agreement, or NSA, a court-ordered reform of the department that stems from the 2000 “Riders” lawsuit.
“I know Tom Frazier very well, and I know his sensibilities,” Wasserman said. “He has responsibilities for standards under the NSA, but it will not impact much on what the community needs to come together. Eighty or 60 percent of what we’ll do here is what neighborhoods and others will do, not what the police department will do.”
Toward the end of his presentation, Wasserman repeated his belief in the plan’s success. “People in this city have a passion,” he said. “There’s tremendous energy throughout this city, and we need to find a way to bring it all together with a singular focus on preventing crime in the future.”
Afterward, some audience members were responsive to Wasserman’s words. “We are where we are at this point,” said Rev. Ken Chambers of West Side Missionary Baptist Church, who spoke out during the meeting and commended police and city officials for “trying to do something.”
“We need to move forward as productively as possible,” Chambers said.
Others were more skeptical. “I don’t know if [Wasserman] was taking any of the feedback,” said Miguel Vargas, an Oakland resident who spoke during the meeting about the police response to Occupy Oakland in 2011. “I don’t know if it amounts to anything, the public feedback he got.”
Jim Dexter, chair of a public safety committee in the North Hills community, said he supported Wasserman’s policies, but wasn’t sure if the city would actually respond to the consultants’ plans. “I’m a big fan of Bob Wasserman and I think what he has to say, the city of Oakland should listen to him very, very seriously,” he said. “The record of Oakland listening is zero.”
The next public safety forum will be Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at West Oakland Middle School.