OPD struggling to hire Oakland-based officers
on September 26, 2019
Tuesday night’s Oakland Public Safety Committee meeting revealed that the Oakland Police Department (OPD) is still struggling to hire officers who live in Oakland, despite new recruitment efforts, and that the majority of last year’s $500,000 traffic safety grant went towards paying officers to work overtime to police traffic violations.
OPD personnel manager Kiona Suttle opened with a report containing updates on recruitment and attrition rates from the past few months. She noted that despite a spike in attrition in August and September, the class of officer trainees that graduated last week brought the number of sworn personnel up from 749 officers as of June 30 to 751 this month. The department is understaffed by 41 sworn personnel positions.
Only 10 percent of Oakland’s police officers actually live in Oakland, according to the report, and the majority of officers are white and male. As of the 2010 census, 34.5 percent of Oakland residents are white, followed by black or African American residents at 28 percent, Hispanic or Latino at 25.4 percent, and Asian residents at 16.8 percent.
Community members lined up one after another to fire off comments and questions at the OPD representatives, often continuing after the buzzer signaled the end to their allotted time. “We want to have people that live here, want to be here, respect the community,” said a woman who identified herself as Assata Olugbala, which is also the name of a former Black Liberation Army member now living in exile in Cuba.
“I really think we need to increase our local hiring,” said Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan. Kaplan said she has received comments from people who have applied to become an OPD officer, who expressed that “they felt that there was a lot of negativity toward African Americans, toward women, and toward LGBT people in the application process,” and “a sense that they were not welcome.”
Kaplan also said she wanted to know which recruitment events are effective. She said that the report lists events, and which people attended and then inquired about applying, but didn’t reveal if potential applicants actually followed through. “That would really help us identify which of these outreach events are more and less useful,” Kaplan said.
OPD Bureau of Services Director Virginia Gleason said that the department was gaining traction using a text messaging program as a recruitment tool for 911 dispatchers in the few months since it was debuted.
Addressing concerns over the lack of local officers, Gleason said that during the application process, recruiters are collecting information not only whether or not an applicant currently lives in Oakland, but also if they have ever lived in Oakland, if they were born and raised in Oakland, and if they have other local ties.
Finding actual residents is tough, she said. “Younger people who are starting families can’t afford to live here,” said Gleason.
The second item on the agenda was a $500,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety for the OPD’s traffic enforcement program. OPD Grants Coordinator Molly Giesen-Fields said this is the ninth year the department has received this grant, and that its purpose is to help reduce traffic injuries and fatalities.
“This year, as in past years, the vast majority of the grant goes to cover overtime for officers that are involved in the traffic operations enforcement work,” she said.
District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo said that driving in Oakland is out of control, and that people “see a red light and treat it like it’s yellow, and if you can make a left turn wherever you want to, whenever you want to, you do it.”
“I don’t see the presence or enforcement of the rules that we do have,” said Gallo.
Kaplan and other councilmembers requested that OPD providesupplemental information including a map of traffic violation hotspots and a more comprehensive breakdown of citations issued by officers.
Olugbala commended the department for taking decisive action by holding a press conference recently to draw community attention to a missing teenager, Jonathan Fayiah Bandabaila. Bandabaila is a 19-year-old Oakland resident who has been missing since the beginning of May, after his vehicle was found parked and abandoned on the San Mateo Bridge.
“It was very courageous of the police department to step up,” said Olugbala.
The committee’s next meeting will be on October 8.
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