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Residents learn OPD policies and procedures at Citizens Police Academy

on April 18, 2012

Justin Samaniego is attending the Oakland Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy because he wants to become a police officer. Jan Gilbrecht signed up because she believes that citizens need to be aware of the OPD’s practices and make sure the department is following the rules. Gilbrecht and Samaniego were two of 45 people who attend the first night of OPD’s Citizens Police Academy, which is for Oakland residents and department applicants who are interested in learning more about OPD’s “policies and procedures” according to the course booklet that’s passed out to each of the students.

The 14-week course, which meets every Monday is being held in a conference room at the Eastmont Substation at the Eastmont Mall. Attendees at the packed opening session on Monday had different reasons for being there and came from diverse backgrounds. Some were OPD applicants, others were members of Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils and the Citizens’ Police Review Board, which is made up of Oakland residents and discusses their concerns with the department. But all were there for the same reason—to learn how the OPD operates and to get a behind-the-scenes-look at the department.

“I really want to know more about how they function day-to-day,” said Gilbrecht, 58, who lives near Lake Merritt, said after OPD Chief Howard Jordan gave a brief overview of the department. “I thought it was informative to hear from Chief Jordan and get the breakdown of how the department is organized.”

Every Monday night until the end of July, a member of the department will instruct the class on a different aspect of policing and the OPD’s procedures. During the fifth week of class, for instance, Captain Jeff Israel will give an overview on the laws of arrest and search and seizure. During the twelfth week of class, Sergeant Greg Porritt will talk about what it takes to be a member of the department’s SWAT team. The class will also take field trips to tour OPD facilities like to the crime lab and dispatch radio room. Students can also take a ride-along with an officer on duty.

Applicants for the course must pass a brief background check and can’t have any active warrants or violent criminal convictions, according to Lea Rubio, an OPD police services technician and the coordinator of the academy.

Rubio said the course is designed to give community members an inside look at the department, as well as the opportunity to ask questions about its practices. “People that live here or work here have the opportunity to learn what OPD does and what our personnel do, as well as why things are done in a certain way,” Rubio said. “This is really giving you the real slice of what it’s like to do police work.”

The class that formed Monday is the 33rd group to take the course. Included on the first night’s agenda were talks from Jordan and OPD Public Information Officer Johnna Watson.

Jordan, dressed in a grey suit with a bright purple tie, was easy-going and cracked jokes with the attendees during a 20 minute talk that focused on how the department is structured, his career and what he does day-to-day.

Jordan said that one of his major goals since he became interim police chief last October (he became the permanent chief in February) was to be “transparent as an organization” and to find ways to “get the community more involved.” He said he has been attending NCPC meetings and encouraging people to volunteer with the OPD, and thanked those present for attending the Citizens Police Academy. “This is not my police department, this is your police department,” Jordan said. “This is what you pay taxes for. The fact that you want to know what happens behind the scenes, and some of the things we’re doing, I applaud you for being here.”

Watson, who like Jordan has worked for the department for more than 20 years, told the audience about some of her policing career. Prior to becoming the department’s spokesperson, Watson said she worked every shift and every beat in the department, and that police work has put her in some precarious situations. She worked undercover pretending to be a prostitute, wearing a long, brown wig over her short hair, carrying her police uniform in a backpack so she could change quickly if need be. When there were reports of women being raped near Laney College, Watson and another officer walked through the area over and over at night waiting for someone to jump out of the bushes and attack them. “Knock on wood, I have angels, or somebody’s watching me,” Watson said.

Though they had different reasons for being there, Gilbrecht and Samaniego said they were happy to have the chance to learn the inner workings of the department. Samaniego, 26, said becoming a police officer is a “life-long goal” and he’s eager to get started.

“They could use more help,” he said. “I’d like to be a part of the solution to the problem of crime and make this place better for everyone and my future family members.”


  1. Mr Freely on April 19, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Okay East Oakland has a crime problem, but how about some where other than the EastMont Mall? Unless you live in the neighborhood or you own a car that can a risky,long,uncomfortable trip.

    Why not downtown? The public transportation located downtown would allow a much large cross section of the city to participate.

  2. Mr Freely on April 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    BTW I wonder how different the the training would be if they had a couple of criminal defense attorneys present at those classes.

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