Only nine of the nearly 60 aspiring Oakland police officers in the city’s police academy training to become part of the city’s next crop of officers by the end of October are Oakland residents.
City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan is looking to boost that number for the next training cohort, which is raising questions about the benefits of hiring local residents and how the city can recruit more homegrown applicants.
Those nine residents are part of the city’s 170th police academy, which is scheduled to finish training October 31, according to police records, and bring the trainees into the force, in which only 49 of 626 sworn officers live in Oakland. Most OPD officers commute from Contra Costa County or other parts of Alameda County, according to police data from June.
At a news conference at City Hall earlier this month, Kaplan, who is running for mayor in the November election, proposed setting a hiring goal of 50 percent Oakland residents for the next academy.
This week, Kaplan spokesperson Jason Overman said the city currently has no goal as to what percentage of officers should live in Oakland. “Without a goal, it is mathematically impossible to fail at achieving a goal,” he said.
Overman said Kaplan’s proposal, which is scheduled for introduction at the council’s Rules and Legislation Committee starting at 10:45 a.m. this morning at City Hall, would do something to “strengthen the ties and the trust between the community and the police officers who are sworn to protect…that community.” The proposal calls for recruiting at least 50 percent Oakland residents from the thousands of applicants looking to join the force.
Overman has clarified, in the two weeks since the councilmember’s announcement, that “we are talking about new hires.” He said Kaplan is not proposing a residency requirement for the Police Department, which is illegal under state law. The state constitution stipulates that a city or county “may not require that its employees be residents of such city, county, or district.”
Kaplan said at her news conference that the city already has a 50 percent hiring policy in place for businesses it contracts with. At the news conference she said that with this policy in mind, the city should “practice what we preach.”
That residency requirement she alluded to is in fact for construction, development and other professional services contracts, including trucking and other public works projects—not for all of the city’s hiring, such as police and other civil service positions.
Deborah Barnes, director of the City Administrator’s Office Contracts and Compliance Division, said if the number of workers for a construction project or other contracts does not include 50 percent city residents, a monetary penalty is assessed to the company or contractor. According to a city report outlining the local hiring policy, there is a penalty for contractors who do not provide records showing proof of residency—1 percent of the contract amount, or a $1,000 per day penalty. The city may terminate the contract or stop work, and the contractor and any subcontractors may be barred from participating in city projects from anywhere to six months to five years, and could lose certification. Last year, the city received roughly $32,000 in penalties, Barnes said. The amount from each penalized contract ranged from $2,000 to $16,000.
In 2012, when the Oakland City Council amended—or “tweaked,” as Barnes said—some wording of the local hire ordinance, the legislation stated, “for every dollar paid by a jurisdiction to a ‘resident’ contractor seven dollars are circulated in the jurisdiction’s local economy.”
United Brotherhood of Carpenters International Pile Drivers Local 34 senior field representative Pat Karinen said finding local hires for contractors “doesn’t seem like that big of an issue here in Oakland.” He contrasted Oakland to San Francisco, where many construction workers can’t make rent to live in the city. “Ain’t nobody can afford to live there,” he said.
Karinen said many Oakland residents are members of the union, which represents workers involved in bridge, foundation and underwater projects, along with steel and concrete beam work and more. “We are able to round up folks who live in town,” Karinen said.
Overman said just setting the goal without mandating a police hiring policy will bring improvements to the city. The more Oakland-based police officers, the better, he said. “We believe we would be successful in reducing violent crime and increasing trust between community and police.” He said the councilmember’s legislation focuses on finding recruits who are Oakland residents during that initial process.
Merritt College’s Administration of Justice program chair Margaret Dixon, a retired OPD veteran of 25 years, said she supports a goal of finding half the newly hired police officers among Oakland residents. “I think those numbers are attainable if they focus on a lot of college students,” she said.
She emphasized getting residents excited about joining the Police Department early through high school and college feeder programs, especially since she said recruiting for OPD “is not an easy sell” with its maligned history of corruption scandals, unstable leadership, and a struggling relationship with community members. She said having a homegrown police force “absolutely” makes a difference. “People make an investment where they live,” Dixon said. “It makes it personal.”
Mayor Jean Quan, who is up for re-election, would like to see 100 percent of the force come from Oakland, her mayoral spokesperson Sean Maher said.
He said the city’s police academies have “been making a lot of progress” in areas beyond residency, including diversity of ethnicity, gender, age and multilingual skills. He credited the mayor’s “Grow Our Own” ideas, such as the Oakland Police Explorers feeder program through local high schools, among other initiatives, as bolstering local representation. In the previous academy last December, the group of 55 recruits included only three Oakland residents. The mayor has been championing for more resident representation in all city departments since her term began in 2011.
The Explorers program uses outreach and education starting in high school to assure that “kids who are interested in joining the force when they get older have a lot of the background they may need to be successful candidates,” Maher said. It gets our “own young people interested in law enforcement at a younger age and they know what they are going to need to enter the field,” he said.
The mayor is always actively trying to recruit residents, he said. “One of the things we hear from the community is that they want to feel that the police department serves and reflects themselves,” Maher said.
Other mayoral candidates have weighed in on the issue of local hiring in the police force and Kaplan’s 50-percent proposal.
Candidate Bryan Parker took issue with Kaplan’s apparent lack of suggestions as to how she would realize her goal, as well as the timing of her proposal. “We still have to wonder where this urgency was prior to her running for mayor during the last six years she has served on the City Council,” he wrote in an email following her news conference.
Dan Siegel, who once served as a legal advisor to Quan’s office before running for mayor, said, “I think it would be very important for the police department to be more reflective of Oakland. And not just in terms of race and ethnicity, but people who really care about Oakland regardless.” He said that by setting a goal of even more than 50 percent, “That’s the way you actually have impact. People are part of the community and feel responsible to it.”
He said Kaplan’s proposal means the city needs to find a way to give incentives to those Oakland residents as another tactic to recruit locals aside from high school training programs and other efforts. He suggested ideas that would require negotiations with police unions beforehand, such as allowing local officers to bring patrol cars home, or getting work assignment and scheduling preferences.
“It would be really terrific if all the officers lived in Oakland,” Siegel said.
Additional reporting by Alissa Greenberg and Gina Pollack.