Understanding OPD’s New $1 Million Gun Tracing Plan

Last week, the Public Safety Committee met to discuss the Oakland Police Department’s $1 million spending plan to reduce gun violence and trafficking over the next two years. (Watch the full discussion here and read the Oakland Tribune’s summary of the plan.)

With this new budget allocation, OPD will hire a police records specialist and two crime analysts, plus fund overtime for a team that will investigate ShotSpotter calls. The department will also invest in new equipment: three gun microscope cameras, a gun laser scanner, and other technology to support gun database entry and automation.

You can see a breakdown of the costs below.


(Read OPD’s full informational report here: Implementation of a $1M Gun Tracing Allocation in FY 2015-2017 Budget.)

The committee agreed that the new equipment is absolutely necessary and replaces time-consuming analysis and outdated technology. “Picture an 1800s camera, where you have to stand still and not smile. That’s where we’re at,” said Lieutenant Brandon Wehrly, from OPD’s Criminal Investigations Division.

The new scanners and cameras mean better forensics, efficient investigations, and stronger cases against illegal gun owners and traffickers.

But there was some disagreement, and confusion, about the new personnel. Councilmember Desley Brooks, the chair of the public safety committee, questioned the costs. Would these hires turn into an “ongoing obligation” for Oakland? Would there be a clear way to measure their impact?

During the meeting, it was reemphasized that this is a pilot program. The two crime analyst positions are limited to two years and will only be extended after assessment by the City Council. Additionally, if funding for the police records specialist is not renewed, it will be absorbed into OPD filling a vacant position.

There was also some dispute over the overtime funding for the ShotSpotter team.  Councilmember Abel Guillén asked why not hire more officers or staff instead of paying out $360,000 in overtime?

“Hiring more cops is great,” councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, a strong advocate for the plan, told Oakland North, “but because this is a two-year pilot program, it takes two years to hire a cop.

“The specific concern…was that overtime costs more than hiring new cops. But it actually doesn’t, because for each new cop you have not only the salary but medical, dental, vision, retirement, uniform, equipment, cars.”

The importance of turning ShotSpotter data into action is clear. In 2015, ShotSpotter has been activated just under 2,900 times—sometimes about 30 incidents a day. OPD’s Assistant Police Chief Paul Figueroa said that while this gunfire doesn’t always result in injuries, getting officers out in the community, to “knock on doors,” is an important way of building trust.

In the end councilmember Kaplan, who took credit for pushing City Council to approve the $1 million budget, said the plan is about better gun control and reducing gun violence at the source.

“Every time there’s a murder people ask, ‘Did he hate this guy?’ or ‘Where did he know him from?’ or ‘How did this happen?’ But every shooting happened because there was a gun…and the widespread, easy proliferation of illegal guns in our community is a serious public safety threat.”

Tonight, the City Council will review the informational report and weigh in.

Mayor’s State of the City Address: Accountability, Infrastructure, and Housing


In our last post we analyzed Mayor Libby Schaaf’s strategy for “holistic community safety” outlined in her State of the City address. Today, we’ll continue our discussion, looking at her other three stated top priorities: responsive, trustworthy government, sustainable infrastructure, and equitable jobs and housing. 

Responsive, trustworthy government 

The Mayor’s total policy discussion on accountability was as follows:

“I could tell you about our transparency and ‘gov 2.0’ projects—like our Digital Front Door website redesign, our employee civic lab or plans for a 3-1-1 call center, but it really starts with the people.”

She then praised top staff members, the City Administrator, and other recent additions to her team.

Our take:
We don’t criticize the Mayor for publicly and openly supporting her people—that’s an important part of leadership. But we call for more emphasis on policy. A starting point might be these initiatives from her campaign white paper on how to “bring Oakland government into the 21st Century”:

What I Will Do 

Implement 311 System for better service delivery:
Do you know what number to call to report illegal dumping or a pothole? Most big cities use a 3-1-1 system to make it easy for residents to request help from their government. As Mayor I will implement a world-class 311 customer service center that transitions the City to a new generation of technology that centralizes citizen requests and makes the process and resolution of each request accessible to the public 24/7 on our website.

CityStat and the Office of Strategic Performance:
I will link the 311 service request system with a CityStat performance accountability system led by a newly established Office of Strategic Performance (see Louisville, Kentucky for a good model). I will work with department heads to establish clear performance measures and nurture a culture of continuous improvement within City Hall. In pursuit of this goal, OSP will help City departments and agencies deliver high quality services to citizens in a cost-efficient and transparent manner. Three core efforts include strategic planning, performance management, continuous improvement consulting and training. We can save on technology procurement dollars by conducting internal and external user research to scope projects more efficiently, determine what the needs are and design a scope of work to fulfill those needs. Too often contracts are signed without a clear understanding of the pain points, and key opportunities to solve actual problems are missed.

Sometime soon, Oaklanders should hear about where we stand on these efforts.

More after the break. Continue reading

Mayor’s State of the City Address: What the Mayor Said About Safety, And What We Think

As many Oaklanders have heard, Mayor Libby Schaaf gave her first State of the City Address last week at City Hall. You can watch the full video and a read a complete transcript on the city’s website, and find recaps in the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Tribune and Oakland North.

Oaklanders are fiercely divided on issues such gentrification, affordable housing,
development, crime and safety. We argue over the future of our city, we disagree. But as the Mayor emphasized, twice in her speech, “We must turn toward each other, not on each other.”

Mayor Schaaf returned to four basic priorities for Oakland that she first outlined during her campaign and at her inauguration: holistic community safety, equitable jobs and housing, sustainable infrastructure, and responsive, trustworthy government.

In this post, we’ll focus on holistic community safety, summarize the Mayor’s positions, and present some thoughts of our own.

Holistic Community Safety

The mayor began by expressing optimism about violent crime trends, citing numbers purportedly showing “Oakland is getting safer.”

For the third consecutive year, we have double digit reductions in non-fatal shootings — down 14% compared to this time last year. Residential burglaries and home-invasion robberies are significantly down, 15 and 54%, respectively. We’ve had a similar number of robberies as last year, which continues to be 27% below the previous 3 years average.

She then acknowledged that murders were up by 15% from last year and at the time of her speech there had been 71 homicides so far in 2015.  “I can’t celebrate improvements while overall levels of fear and harm in this city remain so unacceptably high. And behind every number and trend line lies a heartbreaking story of loss.”

That brought us to what was going to change:

  • The Mayor announced that 35 new officers were graduating from academy on October 30, that 50 more were in training, and that we were “on-track to meet my promise of 800 officers by 2017.”
  • She stated Oakland would use “recently awarded federal grants to hire walking officers for our commercial corridors, expand our 21st century policing reforms, and combat the horrific sexual exploitation of minors in Oakland.”
  • She promised that Oakland would strengthen Cease Fire, would expand it to reduce robberies, and would more than double case managers and increase street outreach workers.
  • She applauded Oakland Police Chief Whent for recognizing that “policing is about being guardians of the community not warriors within it,” and promised that OPD would “reduce arrests by 26% and use-of-force by 15%, while continuing to bring down crime.”
  • She stressed the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the police department’s Procedural Justice Training, giving a shout out to Rev. Damita Davis-Howard from Oakland Community Organizations and PICO’s Pastor Ben McBride for their guidance.
  • Finally, the Mayor promised: “By the end of the year we’ll release Oakland’s first Comprehensive Community Safety Plan, crafted by a diverse array of experts. It will create better collaboration and collective accountability for a holistic set of goals—ranging from increasing high school graduation rates to improving reentry support to making Oakland a restorative justice city.”

Continue reading

3 Takeaways from Our Meeting with City Auditor Brenda Roberts


Make Oakland Better Now!’s board recently met with City Auditor Brenda Roberts to talk about how her office can make a greater impact on Oakland’s ethics, integrity, and productivity. We wanted to share three big takeaways from our meeting and look at how Roberts plans to run a “world class audit shop.”

1. More Transparency, Less Arm-Twisting

At her inauguration in January, Roberts promised to be an “auditor for all of Oakland,” for renters and homeowners, taxpayers and small businesses. To reach this goal, her office is not just following the money, but promoting collaboration and transparency citywide.

Roberts is more process than outcome focused when it comes to promoting strong finances. Basically, she says, it doesn’t help to find out at the end of a project that it’s gone over-budget, to do a postmortem for the city. “When it’s already in the headlines, what do you want me to report?”

But Roberts sees more and more departments reaching out first, opening lines of communication, and opening their books for review. This a good sign. It shows the auditor’s office is starting to build trust and inspire teamwork. “When someone says, ‘Can you come and look at my department?’ – that’s exactly what I want to hear.”

This allows her office to do more consulting and less arm-twisting. They’re able to set milestones, track change orders, run user-acceptance tests, and overall make the evaluation process much more rigorous.

2. A Risk-Focused Oakland

As City Auditor, Roberts says she is focusing on Oakland’s greatest risks – risks to the city’s budget and image, to health and safety. Part of this approach is about raising awareness in the community about fraud, waste and abuse, and managing a hotline for new reports.

It’s also about being the best watchdog and breaking up Oakland’s “culture of interference.” This is a wide-ranging effort: The City Auditor’s office is looking at noncompliances, creating business continuity plans, examining hiring and retention practices – including on the job training, talent acquisition, vacancies, technology or skillset deficiencies – and much more.

From all this, Roberts is trying to create a “heat map” of risk. Her office has especially focused on getting resources to decentralized departments, what she calls a “further from the mothership” approach.

She’s also focused on who the city partners with – contractors, service providers, and nonprofits – groups she feels are more likely for budget burnout or fraud.  It’s necessary to keep these partners on a “short, tight rein,” she said.

Roberts is pushing for smarter, stronger internal controls where her office is seeing a general lack of procedures and policy. In this year’s police overtime audit, for example, they exposed a need for more effective overtime and comp time management and more realistic OPD budgets.

3. Oakland Needs a Time Audit

The City Auditor’s risk-based approach is almost a necessity, brought on by her office’s lack of resources. “Right now, there’s no time to say ‘nice job,’” Roberts said.

Roberts heads a 10-person staff with about a $1.5 million budget–that’s a few people and thousands of dollars too short. There are some short-term solutions to make up the difference like getting grants for interns and fellows. There are also policy changes to consider like setting a portion of every department’s budget aside for the auditor’s office.

Right now, they’re preparing a handful of mandatory audits including audits for Measure M and N, an audit of 911 services,  and an audit of the Oakland Fire Department’s wildfire prevention measures.

Roberts notes that these rolling audits sometimes feel “unfocused,” tying up her office, and at their worst risk becoming a waste of energy. She would rather see audit policy more in line with her process-based approach, more open than after-the-fact. (Of course removing a ballot-measure approved mandate requires another ballot measure.)

MOBN would like to thank City Auditor Brenda Roberts for her time and her work at City Hall. We look forward to following her progress.

Update on the Negotiated Settlement Agreement: Our Analysis

Police reform and public safety advocates have paid close attention to Oakland’s progress–staggered though it’s  been–under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (or NSA) that settled Oakland’s notorious police corruption case often known as the Riders Case. The settlement agreement was reached in 2003 and Oakland has struggled in the years since to make real progress on the 51 reforms it required.

But under court supervision, the strong leadership of OPD’s current command staff, and new policies that are helping rank-and-file officers build better relationships with our community, OPD reforms are stronger than they’ve ever been. Use-of-force incidents are down, civilian complaints are down, and civilian oversight is being bolstered with strong leadership and more resources.

The media coverage of this progress, and especially of the most recent report from Chief Warshaw, has missed many of the most important points.

First, the monitor repeatedly praises OPD’s policies and its execution of those policies.  For example (from the most recent report), in discussing the very important Executive Force Review Board (EFRB), used to investigate officer-involved shootings and other major uses of force, the monitor reports:

[W]e have noted continued improvement with EFRB process. Of particular note has been the investigators’ demonstrated knowledge of the cases presented and professional police procedures. This is, in part, attributed to the specialized and extensive training the present administration has provided – and it is demonstrative of OPD’s commitment to addressing the serious issue of force. . . . [O]ur review of the case files has found the investigations to be thorough and the Executive Review Board schedule to be timely.

In a lengthy discussion of vehicular and pedestrian stop data and analysis to eliminate bias from such stops, the monitor states:

[W]e . . . applaud OPD for its continued engagement with Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford University. Dr. Eberhardt’s collection and study of stop data is an effort to understand whether, or the degree to which, bias may affect the interactions between the police and members of the public; and to develop appropriate training or intervention strategies. This forward thinking will undoubtedly be beneficial to OPD and the Oakland community.

Second, out of 51 “tasks” originally monitored in the NSA, OPD has been in compliance with 48 for more than a year, and is now under monitoring for only Task 5 (Complaint Procedures for IAD), Task 34 (Vehicle Stops, Field Investigation and Detentions) and Task 45 (Consistency of Discipline Policy).

But it’s really less than that. Taking these in inverse order:

Task 45 (Consistency of Discipline Policy):

This was the subject of the Special Investigator’s Report in April, rightly questioning why OPD wasn’t able to make discipline stick in arbitration. The Court expressed “disappointment and shock” at the Investigator’s report, saying “Many of the Investigator’s recommendations are obvious, or at least would be to anyone concerned with trying to improve the City’s arbitration success rate.”

What the Court didn’t explain was that the monitor repeatedly found OPD in compliance with Task 45 from October 2013 through July 2014, before becoming concerned about several arbitrations in October 2014.

The City is implementing the Investigator’s recommendations, and although details are not public, we understand that arbitration outcomes have already improved markedly. OPD and the City should be in full compliance with Task 45 very soon.

Task 34 (Vehicle Stops, Field Investigation and Detentions):

It is worth noting the exact requirements of Task 34:

  1. OPD shall require members to complete a basic report on every vehicle stop, field investigation and every detention. This report shall include, at a minimum:
  2. Time, date and location;
  3. Identification of the initiating member or employee commencing after  the first year of data collection;
  4. Reason for stop;
  5. Apparent race or ethnicity, and gender of individual(s) stopped;
  6. Outcome of stop (arrest, no arrest);
  7. Whether a search was conducted, and outcome of search;
  8. Offense categories (felony, misdemeanor or infraction).
  9. This data shall be entered into a database that can be summarized, searched, queried and reported by personnel authorized by OPD.
  10. The development of this policy shall not pre-empt any other pending or future policies and or policy development, including but not limited to “Promoting Cooperative Strategies to Prevent Racial Profiling.”

– Negotiated Settlement Agreement VI. B.

Here’s what the monitoring team reports:

During our prior quarterly reviews of information to assess compliance with this Task, we reviewed random samples of various data and forms relating to stops. The sample size generally exceeded 350 stops and included Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) entries, Field Contact Cards, traffic citations, and Stop Data Forms.

We also reviewed the stop data forms to determine whether they were accurately and fully completed as required with the following information, 1) time; 2) date; 3) location; 4) identification of member making stop; 5) reason for stop; 6) apparent race/ethnicity of individual(s) stopped; 7) gender of individual(s) stopped; 8) outcome of stop (arrest or no arrest); 9) whether a search was conducted; 10) outcome of any search; and 11) offense category (felony, misdemeanor, or infraction). We gave special attention to the reason for the stop (No. 5) – essentially the fundamental justification for the interaction between the officer and the person stopped.

Our reviews of this data for our last several quarterly reports found sufficient valid justification for each stop reviewed; accordingly we have turned our focus to analyses of the data to identify indicators of racial disparity.

In other words, OPD is taking absolutely every step required by Task 34. Nonetheless, with no specific stated reason, the monitor finds OPD to be in “partial compliance” with Task 34.

Although the report doesn’t say so, the reasons seem to be racially disparate numbers of stops and searches, the overall number of parole/probation stops (although the monitor acknowledges these stops have a legitimate law enforcement purpose), a lower level of contraband recovery during probation/parole searches of African Americans as compared to Hispanics, and the inadequacy of OPD’s analysis of stop data. At the same time, as discussed above, the monitor praises OPD for its continued engagement of Stanford’s Dr. Eberhardt to provide such analysis.

Make Oakland Better Now! agrees with the monitor that OPD should continue to analyze its stop data and eliminate bias in vehicle and pedestrian stops. We agree that stops, while valuable, “can . . . be detrimental to overall community relations, and to community cooperation with crime control strategies, and . . . it is an area ripe for the employment of the tenets of procedural justice.”  

But the fact that OPD can do even more than it does in these areas does not mean OPD is out of compliance with Task 34.  OPD, based on the monitor’s own reporting, is meeting every one of the Task 34 requirements, and is in full compliance.

Task 5 (Complaint Procedures for IAD):

Here, there are 14 sub-tasks. As with Task 45, the monitor found OPD in full compliance four quarters in a row. After the investigator issued his report concerning arbitrations, the monitor deferred further evaluation of OPD’s compliance with the complaint procedures requirements.

Then, in the 21st report in May of this year, the monitor evaluated every single sub-task, found OPD in full compliance with every single sub-task, and then reported that despite this literal compliance with every requirement, and no criticism whatsoever, he was going to judge OPD as in partial compliance only because of the related Task 45 problems.

In short, as he has on many occasions, the monitor unilaterally re-wrote the requirements of a task and then, based on the new interpretation, found OPD out of compliance.

Our Takeaway:

It’s not time to end police accountability and oversight efforts: it’s time to strengthen them by restoring full control of our department to the people of Oakland, under the guidance of the local leaders who are helping OPD make historic progress.

Chief Sean Whent, Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa, and the rest of their command staff have dedicated their careers to best-practices policing. They have put community policing at the center of how OPD grows and does its job. OPD’s relationships with the community are strengthening through violence-reduction programs like Ceasefire, which enjoys the support of the community, our officers, and all our elected officials. Oakland is already on track to continue this progress, to strengthen the bonds between police and the communities they serve.

As we noted above, and as the court has now reported, Oakland is in full compliance with 50 out of 51 NSA tasks. Once OPD shows sustainable compliance with Task 45, it will be time for the monitor, the Plaintiff attorneys, and the judge to acknowledge it is time for Court supervision to end, and for Oakland to once again carry the full responsibility and accountability for growing the police department our residents deserve.

Note: Links to all relevant NSA reports from 2010 to present are available without search or download charges or the need for a PACER account here.

Update on the Negotiated Settlement Agreement: Give Oversight Back to Oakland

Negotiated Settlement Agreement

Court-appointed NSA Monitor Robert Warshaw issued his twenty-first report on May 5, his twenty-second on July 10 and his twenty-third report on August 10. These received some press coverage (see Oakland Tribune’s report on the most recent report here), but Oakland and local media seem to have largely missed the most important point: After more than a decade, it’s time to talk about finally ending the court’s oversight and returning full control of our policing policies to the people of Oakland.

Make Oakland Better Now! has been very pleased to see the changes at OPD in the past two years, and we certainly understand that many of those changes have been driven by the NSA. Moreover, the hard work of community policing isn’t over. Every successful organization needs to continually improve and adapt, and that certainly applies to police departments.

In the most recent report, Chief Warshaw states that Oakland is short of full compliance in 3 out of the 51 tasks. But the fact is, the reports show that the City is actually in full compliance with 50 out of 51 NSA tasks. As to the one remaining – which addresses the complaint arbitration process – we believe that with implementation of the investigator’s’ recommendations, Oakland’s success rate will be much higher than the national average.  

Once Oakland shows sustainable compliance with this task, it will be time for the monitor, the Plaintiff attorneys and the judge to acknowledge it is time for Court supervision to end, and Oakland to take responsibility for the ongoing improvement of its police department in every respect.

Check back in tomorrow to read our full analysis of the court’s latest report.

City Council Meeting Tonight: Five Budget Proposals and Lots More — It’s Going to Be A Long Night

City Council holds a special meeting tonight at 5:00 p.m., and it’s going to be very long one. Council will be deliberating over the Mayor’s Budget Proposal and the additional proposals of Council President Gibson Mcelhaney’s proposals and additional proposals by CMs Brooks, Guillen and Gallo. Also before Council will be CM Brooks’ proposed establishment of a Department of Race and Equity and alternate proposals by the Mayor and Council President Gibson Mcelhaney. Many of the reports were only issued at the end of last week, and Make Oakland Better Now! is  still evaluating the Mayor’s budget and some seven other reports.  Our initial reactions to CM budget proposals, however, are discussed in our letter today to Council:

June 22, 2015

Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson Mcelhaney, and Members of the Oakland City Council

Re: June 22 Council Meeting Budget Deliberations,                                                                      Agenda Items 10 and 11                       

Dear President Gibson Mcelhaney and City Council Members:

Make Oakland Better Now! is a citizens’ advocacy group supporting public safety, public works, transparency and accountability in government and budget reform in the City of Oakland.

As we have during each recent two year budget cycle, we are closely monitoring this cycle’s budget process.  With a number of council member proposals having only recently been posted, our evaluation is still in process. However, we do have some initial responses which we will share with you before tonight’s meeting.

Public Safety: The city’s budget priority poll late last year showed what every poll within memory has shown:  that Oaklanders’ number one concern is public safety. This is scarcely a surprise in a city that remains one of the most violent in California (and where serious crime is actually up 5% over last year). We recognize that there are multiple elements to public safety.  However, we have seen no polling that would support, for example, allocation of resources for additional City Council staffing, council member-sponsored festivals, or banner design and fabrication.

As supporters of civilianization and increased investigative capacity, we applaud the proposed additions of police evidence technicians and crime analysts.

However, we are very concerned about the proposal to eliminate the Deputy City Attorney III position for NSA compliance. The recent Swanson report makes it clear how essential this position is to help bring our Police Department and City out from under the ongoing financial burden court oversight. That position will surely be required once court supervision ends to ensure that the NSA-related reforms are sustainable.

We also question the realism of an arbitrary cut to police overtime. We join with council, with the administration, with command staff and, quite frankly, rank and file police in their concern about the heavy burden of police overtime and ongoing overruns of the overtime budget. The department has examined and reported on the causes of this overtime, and until we address those causes – primarily severe departmental understaffing – an arbitrary, budgetary reduction is not reality based.

Fiscal Sustainability:

As shown by the Mayor’s budget, and in multiple reports received by Council over the past few years, Oakland’s long-term liabilities are crushing and have to be faced. The OPEB unfunded liability for contractually required, earned retiree health benefits is close to half a billion dollars. Negative fund balances with no source of reimbursement – which threaten the City’s bond rating – are nearly $76 million.

In past budget cycles, Council has enacted last-minute changes to its fiscal policies that steered the city away from responsibly addressing its debt (by, for example, increasing the availability of one-time funds to meet ongoing expenses instead of to reduce accrued liabilities). Accordingly, we are concerned to see several proposals from Council members to eliminate the proposed pay-down of negative fund balances and reduction of the unfunded OPEB liability. We are also concerned to see proposed reliance on revenue sources that do not yet exist (e.g., an as yet non-existent cannabis producer’s tax), or which the administration believes are unrealistic (e.g., the proposed increase to business tax revenue).  The long-term success of our city depends on a prudent management of the city’s financial obligations and a reality-based projection of revenues.

We will be corresponding and speaking further with you when we complete our analysis of all proposals. We wish you the best in your deliberations.


Make Oakland Better Now!