Last week was very hard for Oakland: Police Chief Sean Whent resigned and was immediately replaced by an Interim Chief Benson Fairow, formerly Deputy Chief of BART Police, and a deeply disturbing scandal — involving a possible cover-up — detailed abuse and misconduct by OPD officers.
And it is in this environment that the Public Safety Committee will meet on Tuesday, June 14 at 4:00 p.m. to debate a new charter amendment establishing a strong police commission and other mechanisms of police oversight. The meeting is at Oakland City Hall, Sgt. Mark Dunakin Hearing Room, First Floor.
While an alternate measure (read here and here) by Council Members Annie Campbell-Washington, Abel Guillén and Larry Reid is also on the agenda, both Campbell-Washington and Guillén announced on Facebook Sunday afternoon that they would withdraw the proposal.
Make Oakland Better Now! has spent a great deal of time researching this issue. Our analysis is in a rather lengthy and detailed letter to the Public Safety Committee, and we will be presenting our recommendations at Tuesday’s meeting. But here are some of the key points:
• Samuel Walker, the nation’s leading academic expert on police accountability, strongly supports the use of an expert civilian independent monitor /auditor / inspector general to oversee police discipline and policy matters. We agree that police discipline and policy oversight should be guided by a trusted expert. We also believe this individual, whatever his or her title, should ultimately be directed by an independent commission. To put it simply, on the organization chart, the Commission should be at the top, with the Independent Monitor or Inspector General directly below the Commission.
• The Kalb and Gallo proposal provides for a “selection committee” to select the majority of Commissioners, while the Mayor selects a minority. The Campbell-Washington, Guillén and Reid proposal has a selection committee to select the Independent Monitor. We support neither of these proposals. We continue to believe in the democratic process. A “selection panel” was not elected by Oakland voters, and should not be involved in the process. We believe Commission members should be nominated by the Council and/or Mayor, appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council as with other Oakland boards and commissions. The Commission and Mayor should work collaboratively to select the Monitor or Inspector General.
• We believe that, after investigation by the Independent Monitor and review of the Commission, the Chief of Police should have the final say on disciplinary matters, because the Chief is responsible for all aspects of the Department’s performance. But there should also be accountability: the Commission should be authorized to terminate a Chief who is not complying with discipline policies. We support the Kalb and Gallo proposal, giving the Commission authority to terminate the Chief for neglect of duties or violation of policy after a written warning, conviction of a felony, or of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, failure or refusal to cooperate with an investigation, obstruction of justice, failure or refusal to administer or enforce Department policies, or a material act of dishonesty, fraud or other act of moral turpitude.
• The Kalb and Gallo proposal gives the Commission more involvement in hiring a new Chief than we can approve. Again, this is a matter of democracy — the voters elected the Mayor, who should make these decisions. She, or he, should collaborate with the Commission, however.
• Finally, there were a large number of positive, forward-looking recommendations in the Campbell-Washington, Guillén and Reid proposal. These include: increased use of a City-funded mediation process (although we urge the City to use trained, neutral mediators, not investigators or other City employees); sections on sharing of information with the public, evaluation and monitoring of hiring, training, policy and education policies, and on community outreach; an ongoing community round table process as part of the outreach. As the goal here is a better Department, we will strongly urge the Public Safety Committee and Council to include these recommendations.
Our full letter to the Public Safety Committee is available here. Please join us at Tuesday’s meeting as Council works to shape this into legislation and a new direction for our city.