Public Safety Committee Considers New Police Commission

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.

The details of the proposal under consideration, introduced by Council Members Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo, are available here and here.

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.

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Charlie Stephen

    What role will remain, if any, for the federally appointed monitors, and in particular Robert Warshaw? After monitoring the consent agreement for fifteen years, Warshaw shows no sign that he’s preparing to withdraw; to the contrary, he and Judge Henderson seem to be digging in their heels. There appears to be no end in sight to this supervision which, I believe, has damaged OPD morale and obviously been a drain on the taxpayers.

  2. Hobart Johnson

    A new police commission for Oakland has some merit. Chiefly that of taking oversight away from the Mayor/City Administrator/City Council nexus of incompetence and community disconnection.

    Still, there is a critical component of ethical and socially-beneficial policing completely missing. That is a new, up-to-date, socially-responsible public safety plan.

    Oakland really needs to go back to the origin of modern policing, in Great Britain in the early Nineteenth Century under Home Secretary Robert Peel. Peel’s innovations included getting rid of terrible criminal law and punishment and establishing true community policing with unarmed “Bobbies.”

    Oakland needs do demilitarize its police, establish real rather than fake community policing, and I would suggest setting a very high goal for hiring of female police officers. Women often make much better cops than men; they are less inclined to shoot citizens and are more likely to deal with interpersonal relationships more effectively.

    Will Oakland even talk about these topics? I doubt it.

  3. Hugh Morrison

    I also don’t understand how this will work combined w/ the Judge & the monitor. Are they going to have a separate set of criteria? Are they going to have the same criteria? What happens if the new Commission & the Judge disagree w/each other?

  4. leonard raphael

    Our Mayor’s appointing the City Administrator as temporary police chief underscores the flaw in the argument against Gallo/Kalb. Their Police Commission would be politically insulated from the Mayor and Council by a selection committee and staggered terms.

    Under the City Charter OPD is always directly under the control of the City Administrator. Normally, there’s a police chief for day to day operational control.

    If the Police Commission members were directly nominated by the Mayor and approved by the Council and served at the Mayor’s discretion, we’d have one hand of the Mayor reviewing the work of the City Administrator hand.

  5. Charles

    Shame on the city council for giving in to the anti-police activists, such as demagogues Grinage and Cat Brooks. And more shame for trying to get a commission out of the current sex scandal, which provides no logical reason for a new bureaucracy.

    If someone likes the idea of an inspector general, one officer seems sufficient – after all, the IG officer at the State Department has given impartial and insparing attention to the private email server that Hillary Clinton used to trade U.S. foreign policy for donations to her Foundation.

    The reform that is really necessary is a date certain for the end of monitor Warshaw’s contract. If judge Henderson wants to require another person to be monitor, give him a one-year contract, too. Warshaw has a powerful incentive to evaluate OPD not in compliance – his fat contract that goes on and on. Instead, mayor Schaaf capitulated to him, fired Whent, and tumbled into a series of missteps that shifted public attention to her executive incompetence.

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