Mayor Libby Schaff’s Safe Oakland series has explored tough topics such as community policing and trust-building, and the presentations often address how the city and police department are collaborating with policymakers, academics, and community activists to improve public safety.
The most recent event in the series, “Fair and Just Policing” with Yale Law professor Tracey Meares, continued this important dialogue. Meares, who served on President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, shared insights from recent studies on criminal justice and looked at the intersection between social psychology and law.
Meares said she believes the country is entering a “third Reconstruction,” a time for new models of policing that move beyond arrest rates and crime reduction. She noted that police departments, like Oakland’s, are thinking more deeply about community trust and perception, legitimacy, and how to maintain effective, empathetic authority.
This renewed focus on dignity and respect, on the everyday interactions between police and public, works towards the ultimate goal of compliance.
Increased community buy-in, Meares said, ultimately leads to better safety and civic outcomes. (When police are seen as legitimate, she said, there’s a ripple effect. It’s more likely citizens will be active and engaged in their neighborhoods, showing up to vote and shopping locally.)
Meares outlined four elements, or expectations, of fair and justice policing that lead to greater cooperation. She noted that these elements are universal, across race and income level, and observed nationwide:
• Participation Citizens want to know they are being heard, that they count and have a voice in the process.
• Fairness The public expects decision making by police and other authorities to be neutral and consistent.
• Dignity The public expects politeness and to be treated with respect by organizations or individual officers. “Everything you were taught in kindergarten is still true,” Meares said.
• Motivation In interactions, the public needs to believe authority is acting out of “benevolence” and motivated by trust.
Professor Meares was joined by Assistant Police Chief Dr. Paul Figueroa and Rev. Damita Davis-Howard to answer audience questions, which were largely about inequities and how the police can work with the city’s diverse population.
Rev. Damita Davis-Howard said it is up to police to “make the first move,” to be lawful, responsible, and committed to fairness long-term. But she also asked Oaklanders to pay attention to OPD’s progress and new efforts on restorative justice like Ceasefire. “I believe in redemption,” Rev. Davis-Howard said, “we can not stereotype OPD.”
Assistant Chief Figueroa laid out some of the challenges within the department, such as a high turnover rate and recruiting locally. He hopes that strategies like procedural justice will get officers to stay on beats longer and invest in neighborhoods.
The panel agreed that fair and just policing requires a systemic and holistic approach. (How can the city rethink bail, parole, or even its towing policy to better serve the population?)
All agreed that Oakland was asking the right questions, becoming a leader in policing by being open to new strategies and studies – “whatever works.”
The next Safe Oakland event, in fact, will take a look at one recent effort by OPD to advance transparency and accountability.
On May 19, Stanford’s Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt and Lynn Overmann from the White House Office of Science and Technology will discuss the results of a new, in-depth investigation into the OPD’s stop data and the unconscious, implicit bias that impacts decisions police make every day. (Read recent coverage on OPD’s stop data by the East Bay Express here and here, and by the San Francisco Chronicle here.)
It’ll be another chance for an open and informative dialogue, for Oakland to come together and work towards a safer city.
Save the date:
Safe Oakland speaker series: Open Police Data
Thursday, May 19 from 7-9pm
at Castlemont High School (8601 MacArthur Blvd.)