Police Commission Measure: Exactly What Did the Council Just Do?

Last month, the City Council passed a resolution putting a police commission measure on this November’s ballot. (Read recent coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, and East Bay Times.)

The new commission will differ in a number of important ways from the existing Citizens’ Police Review Board. It will possess subpoena power. The charter provides for mandatory staffing of one investigator for every 100 officers. By a 5-2 vote, it can fire the Police Chief for cause (with “cause” to be defined by enabling legislation). It nominates future chiefs, and the Mayor chooses from the nominated candidates. And it has policy-setting powers to “accept or reject” OPD policies related to use of force, profiling, and First Amendment assemblies. It’s already been called one of the strongest police commissions in the nation.

Like most individuals and organizations involved in this debate, we believe this measure is a terrific step forward, and we will support it. But there’s still much work to be done.

Before the vote, we published a list of what we felt should be included in this measure. We argued for these positions at several City Council meetings. In the following chart, we list our recommendations and discuss how the November measure compares:

Oakland should have both an independent monitor/auditor and a commission or upgraded board. The measure provides for a commission only.
The commission should have its own Executive Director and staffing, and should investigate complaints, make findings and disciplinary recommendations. The measure creates the Community Police Review Agency, which reports to the commission, has its own director, and does all of these things. A three-person disciplinary committee resolves any disagreements between the chief and Agency Director, subject only to review by arbitration.
The commission should review all investigations of officer-involved shootings and deaths in police custody, profiling, any First Amendment violations and on-duty or off-duty criminal activities by both sworn and unsworn police employees. The measure is narrower, providing for mandatory investigation by the Agency of uses of force, in-custody deaths, profiling and First Amendment assemblies, as well as any other complaint or incident as directed by the Commission.
Final decisions on discipline should be transferred from the City Administrator to the Chief, who has final accountability for performance of the department. The measure provides that the Agency can propose a disciplinary decision, the Chief can propose a disciplinary decision, and if they agree, the inquiry ends.  If they disagree, a three person disciplinary committee from the Commission decides between the two, based on the existing record. We like this approach. State law requires an appellate process, which under Oakland’s City Charter continues to be arbitration.
There should be a mandatory number of investigators based on the number of officers, and 1 investigator per 100 officers makes sense. However, we proposed a mechanism for adjusting this ratio upward or downward each five years based on need. The measure sets a permanent ratio of one investigator for each 100 officers, and has no adjustment mechanism, no matter whether complaints go up or down in the coming decades.
There should be members with significant experience involving investigations, law, law enforcement, youth representation and human resources. Members should be broadly representative of communities of interest, neighborhoods, and diversity in economic, ethnicity, race, age, sexual orientation and persons with disabilities.   No categories of individuals should be excluded.  Commissioners should receive background checks. The measure encourages the kinds of experience and diversity  we supported. Excluded from the Commission are present or former sworn officers, current city employees and current or former employees or representatives of a police officers’ association. Background checks are required.
There should be a mandatory training program for all commissioners involving the Citizens’ Police Academy, Oakland Police Department Procedural Justice Training and other appropriate training involving relevant subject matter, substantive and procedural law.


The measure has mandatory training provision including orientation on OPD operations, policies and procedures, and training on Procedural Justice, conflict resolution, national standards of constitutional policing, best practices for conducting investigations and other areas defined by ordinance.
We believed the Commission should have the power to terminate the Chief, but only for cause related to discipline matters. The measure provides that the Commission, whether with the mayor or separately, may terminate the Chief, but that if it acts separately, the termination must be for cause as defined by ordinance. The ordinance has not been adopted yet.

There were also many good ideas that came up during the debate that were either dropped or deferred for later discussion. Below are our suggestions for enabling legislation to improve police/community relations and public safety.

Civilian inspector general This position would be the Agency’s in-house authority on evolving methods of improving Constitutional Policing, would make recommendations for policy improvement, monitor trends, and take a high level of responsibility for maximizing transparency in the Agency and OPD. He or she would also play a major role in the evolution of training, education and coaching. Dr. Sam Walker, the leading academic scholar on the subject of police oversight, favors the auditor/monitor model over citizen commissions, and as mentioned above, we think Oakland needs both. With the Commission now going to the voters, the Civilian Inspector General will fill the other need.

Police leadership academy This is a proposed partnership between the OPD and one of the local colleges or universities to identify and educationally develop high caliber future department leaders.

Voluntary mediation Mediation is a facilitated, voluntary effort by those on all sides to resolve a dispute. It is not appropriate for high level complaints against officers, but could have a very positive impact on public complaints about rudeness, profanity, inaction, and other lower level policy violations. We think the Agency should establish a voluntary mediation program, and that it should include both subject officers and complaining citizens.

Community polling We have long advocated this. A primary goal here is to increase the bonds of trust between officers and the public. So we think it is very important that annual, professionally administered public opinion polling become a permanent part of the process. Oakland elected officials are happy to pay for professional polling when they are considering placing a tax measure before the voters. They have incorporated polling into the budget process. The issues here are more important. Oaklanders deserve to have regular, professionally conducted polling to show whether the City’s efforts to strengthen the bonds of trust are working.

The bottom line:  From now to November 8, we will be supporting this ballot measure. We think it is another important step in advancing Oakland and its police department as leaders in 21st Century Policing. But after the election, we will be pushing City Council to enact a variety of measures that enhance and improve the measure’s impact, and helps give us the police department we deserve.

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 4 Comments

  1. Robert Bruce

    As the father of an OPD officer, I am strongly in favor of the measure to establish a Pollice Commission that was adopted by the City Council.

    I am a former and future Oakland resident.

  2. Charles

    As a current and longtime resident of Oakland who has suffered the consequences of judge Thelton Henderson’s endless micro-monitoring of OPD, of former mayor Jean Quan’s encouragement of crime in Oakland, and the demagogy of the most prominent commission advocate Rashida Grinage, I am against the commission measure.

  3. Rashidah Grinage

    Slight correction: The current CPRB already has subpoena power and has had since 1996.

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