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Council to vote on Police Commission changes, including clause about members acting ‘appropriately and with integrity.’

on December 5, 2023

Oakland is considering changes to its Police Commission that would impact how the group trains and chooses its members.

The City Council’s Public Safety Committee will vote on the legislation Dec. 12 before it can go to the full council for final approval. 

Introduced by Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Kevin Jenkins, the legislation would expand the eligibility for applicants to join the commission by revising the commission’s conflict of interest rules and further define their roles. 

Oakland’s new rules would allow a wider range of individuals to join the commission and improve their training. The changes also clarify the members’ roles and responsibilities and require mandatory training on workplace retaliation.

The Oakland Police Commission is one of the most powerful in the country, with the ability to fire the police chief. Formed in 2016, the commission faced numerous challenges this year. These included leadership disputes, lawsuits, and allegations of a lack of transparency by the commissioners themselves, all leading to substantial turnover and a revised approach to police oversight and reform.

Kalb said the legislation was necessary to improve the efficacy of the commission.

“It became apparent, over a period of a few years, that there are certain rules that might need tightening up,” Kalb said. “How many things that are brand new, are perfect from the beginning, right?”

Conflicts and conduct

One of the proposed changes aims to solve a staffing problem on the commission and on the commission’s selection panel by redefining the “conflict of interest” section in the city’s municipal code. Kalb emphasized the need for this change, highlighting that the commission is currently understaffed and the selection panel has been seeking a new chair. The panel is a group of nine members chosen by City Council and the mayor, responsible for soliciting and interviewing applicants for positions on the commission.

The old definition barred attorneys representing clients in current or recently resolved claims or lawsuits against the Police Department from serving as a commissioner or a member of the selection panel. 

“The previous definition precluded the very type of individuals who would have the most interest and relevant experience to be on the commission or selection panel,” Kalb wrote in a report detailing the proposed legislation.

Another key aspect of the proposed changes requires commission members to conduct themselves “appropriately and with integrity.” This includes their dealings with city staff, the public and among themselves. Any complaints regarding a commissioner’s failure to adhere to these standards will be investigated by an independent investigator. If a commissioner is found in violation, they may face consequences including reprimand, suspension, or removal by the City Council.

Over the past year, the commission has been grappling with internal conflicts. In September, commissioners Karely Ordaz, Marsha Peterson, and Regina Jackson chose to boycott meetings until the chair and vice chair completed their terms. They raised concerns that former Chair Tyfahra Milele and Vice Chair David Jordan were fast-tracking the process of selecting candidates for police chief and alleged instances of physical intimidation. As a result, the commission was unable to meet for a month.

Kalb said it became clear there was a need for renewed focus on collaboration and teamwork within the commission.

“It’s not enough to have seven good individuals, you have to have people who could work together,” he said.

Members of the Police Commission and Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas did not respond to requests for comment about the proposals.

The legislation also includes changes for the Community Police Review Agency and the Office of the Inspector General. The Police Review Agency’s director would be allowed to create its budget, without having to go through the commission. And the inspector general would have expanded authority to investigate allegations against city departments for failure to provide requested files or records to the OIG.

There has been no update from Kalb regarding anticipated revisions to the legislation, which he initially planned to file around the end of November. 

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