Mayoral candidates share their plans on public safety
on July 16, 2010
“Ladies and gentlemen, you could be taking dance lessons in Jack London Square or having a drink. But no, we’ve had too important a week, haven’t we?” With that, Aimee Alison, host of the KPFA Morning Show and founder of OaklandSeen.com, opened the Oakland mayoral forum on public safety held Thursday evening, July 15th at the Lakeshore Baptist Church.
The forum featured seven candidates planning to participate in November’s mayoral election—current city councilmembers Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan, educator Terrance Candell, community activist Orlando Johnson, businessman Gary Harland, Green Party activist Don Macleay, and professor and political commentator Joe Tuman, the latest to announce his candidacy. Larry Lionel Young Jr., a real estate agent, announced his candidacy too late to participate, although he attended the forum. Former State Senate President Don Perata, who’s also running, was absent.
The public safety forum drew a full house—spanning ages and color lines—on the heels of two highly controversial events: the layoff of 80 police officers on Tuesday to help close the city’s budget gap, and the protests following the verdict in the trial of former BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle that resulted in the arrest of 78 people. Those arrested included some who looted and vandalized downtown Oakland during the protests, but also many who simply failed to disperse that night, including Oakland civil rights lawyer Walter Riley.
At the forum, each candidate was given 90 seconds to respond to questions from the groups that co-hosted the event, including the Oakland Black Caucus, the Paul Robeson Chapter of the ACLU, the John George Democratic Club, the Wellstone Democratic Club, Black Women Organized for Political Action and Oakland’s New Leaders.
Alison of OaklandSeen moderated the event, and posed several audience questions to the candidates. Here are some of the questions and responses [shortened in some cases].
Question from the Black Women Organized for Political Action: In Oakland, pimps are forcing preteens and teenage girls into prostitution, where they come into contact with police. How would you work with the police to decriminalize sexually exploited minors?
Candell: I go out into the street, particularly in Fruitvale, and I bring some of our daughters home. We get in contact with parents and we attempt to get communication going again. I don’t know how else to do it. We need a civilian agency involved with working with the police department to bring these young ladies off of these streets.
Johnson: What I’d do is help those individuals on probation, on parole, that have been molested, that have been victimized…and get them the resources we have out here in Oakland. The only thing we can do is protect our own children. I’m from the streets of Oakland. I’ve been in group homes, county jails, the penitentiary, so I understand personally how crime affects people and how to overcome the crimes and surround yourself by a good support base.
Harland: There’s a part of our community in the inner city that has languished for 65 years, ever since World War II and we need to correct that problem. We need economic development. We need people who have lived in families for generations of unemployment to have an opportunity to live a good life.
Kaplan: I would take action to make sure that we’re not criminalizing and punishing young kids who have just been victimized. If we give them a record, we prevent them from having access to jobs. We have to pursue the pimps and understand that they’re the problem, not the minors.
Tuman: We need to vigorously enforce laws against prostitution where children are concerned. That means not only going against the pimps, it means going after the customers, the consumers. They drive the business.
Question from the ACLU: Why do you believe the mayor’s office and the city council have remained silent about the gang injunction in North Oakland? What specific actions would you take as mayor to ensure that the gang injunction is being implemented without violating the civil liberties of our residents?
Harland: This is about law enforcement, and to have proper law enforcement, you have to have a fully staffed police force. You can’t arrest people for normal, legal behavior. If you want a rule of law, this won’t work.
Kaplan: We need to make sure that the promised civil liberties protections are fully implemented. That means no injunctions against a named gang. You have to name the specific individuals by name and have a hearing with the opportunity to be heard and respond.
Macleay: I’m opposed to this gang injunction for two reasons. I’m opposed to taking a person into a civil court…where we don’t really have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The other crime that the gang injunction commits is it divides us. We need to stick together to work on the things we can agree with, and this is just not one of them.
Quan: The current Oakland injunction is against 15 individuals who have mostly been involved in violent crimes in the North Oakland area. I told the chief…that I would not support it being used as a way to just pick up anyone who’s wearing colors, or looks a different way. If I’m mayor, I plan to monitor [the gang injunction] and to see if it’s working or not working. I’m not sure. I’ve been walking North and West Oakland and people are worried about some of the gangs and this is another tool.
Tuman: There are some parts of this [injunction] that make sense. For example, there is an injunction against carrying firearms. There’s an injunction against carrying graffiti-making equipment. The problem that I have with this injunction is that there are two parts of it that do involve violating someone’s rights. One has to do with recruitment; the other has to do with association. There may be a potential for racial profiling. We have to be very careful when talking about association where that’s concerned.
Candell: How is it that this gang injunction only has African Americans and Latinos on it? Oh…and guess what? [Candell takes off his black jacket to reveal a bright, salmon-colored button-down shirt and matching tie.] This is red. You gonna arrest me too? Get the criminals off the street and charge them criminally.
Question from the John George Democratic Club: How would you assess Mayor Dellum’s administration with respect to public safety issues? What, if anything, would you do differently?
Kaplan: My core focus as mayor will be to expand jobs for local residents and business opportunity for local business, and attract the economic investment that makes it possible both to fund our public safety services and to give people real options so they don’t pursue a life of crime. Now…with regards to our situation with the police. I do have an alternative, and that is to have the police pay 9 percent into their pension. We could commit to no layoffs. Even if we were going to lose some [police], the last ones we should lose are the newest hires, who are some of the best, and most affordable, and most diverse, and most from Oakland.
Macleay: I have a profound respect for Ron Dellums….but I was profoundly upset that Ron Dellums actually got himself elected and did not have a clear idea what he was going to do about public safety. I am not going to run for mayor without a clear idea of what I’m going to do about public safety. It’s not a job where you can say ‘This is not my job.’ Yes, it’s the city attorney who’s responsible for the gang injunction. Yes, it’s the BART police that gave us the Oscar Grant disaster. But the mayor has to stand up and take responsibility and lead the community at all times.
Quan: Where I differ with Ron is, quite frankly, I think a lot of safety is going to have to do with my theme of organizing block by block—the grassroots work, the neighborhood watches, building the crime council … that’s how you put your arms around the kid who’s in trouble and is thinking about breaking into your house. When we have good after school programs, crime goes down 40 percent. The real end to crime will be full employment in Oakland, but since we’re away from that…we have to, as a city, take this issue of pension reform [for police] on. It’s irresponsible to stand on the sidelines and say ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have voted to lay off police.’
Tuman: We have to thank Mayor Dellums for his selection of our chief of police. I think he’s a fine man. I think [the police] should pay their share [of pension funds] like everybody else. But I don’t blame them for accepting a generous offer that the city was dumb enough to make. Why did they offer this is the first place? Where is the long-term planning? We need to adjust base salaries, not just pensions and overtime, to get these costs under control.
Johnson: First of all, I would like to respect Mayor Dellums for [being] an African American in one of roughest cities in the country doing a great job. Second of all, we’re not going to talk bad about elected officials on my watch. The murder rate is still dropping, on Dellum’s watch. Now everyone wants to talk about the money. The solution I have for the money is we have an alternative local currency for the city. That will help our deficit.
Question from an audience member: How many police officers does Oakland need? How would you propose paying for them?
Quan: About 1,000 officers, but in order to get there, we have to bring down the cost of the officers. But it’s not just how many officers we have, it’s how we work with them. We may not be able to afford 1,000 offices for quite a while. They have to be community-based officers. They have to get out of their cars and walk. They have to know the neighborhood. They have to be able to work with the community. We could have 10,000 officers and it wouldn’t be safe if they don’t have a better relationship with the community.
Tuman: 1,100 to 1,200 officers. I think we need to focus on criminal enterprise … people who use violence to advance the enterprise of crime. These people are basically rational capitalists. They want the least investment for the greatest return, but they don’t like regulatory oversight. Just like a capitalist. When you have extensive police presence, criminal activity tends to go down. When you don’t, it goes up. It’s very simple. If you have a police department that’s understaffed by a full third, you can’t be everywhere.
Candell: Quote “We cannot arrest our way into social bliss” unquote. Author: Chief Batts. [Oakland North note: the (mis)quote should actually be attributed to Mayor Ron Dellums.] In my school, we haven’t had so much as a fight in ten years. You have to love them enough to give them activities and social programs, and guidance so they can function better in our society.
Johnson: I let the city decide how many police officers we’re going to have. The districts where our seniors and elders are, I make sure that district is policed. Areas where there’s the lowest income, where there’s poverty and tragedy, I have a minimum of police officers. People don’t make crime; crime is a system. I think we should be police-free if we all can come together.
Harland: 1,100 but I agree with Joe [Tuman] that it could be 1,200 officers. According to the FBI, we have the most dangerous city in the United States. People in the inner city stay inside all day because they’re afraid to go outside. I think we need enough police for the city but I also think we need a city that works for everybody, a city that is economically viable.
Kaplan: We need a fundamental economic revitalization strategy aimed at the question of how do we fund a fully functioning city with all the services that people need. The question should not be only how do we pay for law enforcement, but how do we pay for all the services? We have to effectively deploy the police. When there’s a teacher rally, there shouldn’t be 200 cops on standby while someone who’s calling to report a real crime is getting no response.
Macleay: If there was ever a question that could not be answered in 90 seconds, this is it. To try to answer it with a sound bite, I would say, how many police to do what? We’re over-weighted in enforcement, we need to get more into prevention and more into restoration.
Mayoral candidates have until August 5 to declare their candidacy.
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