The Reimagining Public Safety Task Force has approved 90 recommendations on actions that can be taken to improve public safety in Oakland. The City Council voted to establish this Taskforce July 28, 2020, with the goal of determining how to cut 50% from the Oakland Police Department general fund allocation, with the savings going to violence prevention programs. Seventeen community members were appointed to the Taskforce, and, in order to maximize community involvement, four Advisory Boards were created with 30 members each, with an additional Youth Advisory Board comprised of 20 members. The Advisory Boards were split up into 4 or 5 Working Groups each, with each Working Group assigned a specific area to consider. The structure is outlined below:
Oakland City Council ⇒ Reimagining Public Safety Task Force (17 members) ⇒ Advisory Boards (140 members total, divided into 4 to 5 working groups per board)
The Working Groups met usually weekly and the Advisory Boards and the Taskforce usually met bi-weekly. The Working Groups researched and proposed recommendations to the full Advisory Board which then passed those recommendations approved by a majority vote to the Taskforce. The Taskforce the reviewed the Advisory Board recommendations and decided which of the recommendations to approve, while also adding in some of their own. The next step is that there will be an initial presentation made to the City Council on April 11, with a follow-up on April 20, which will include the top 10 in priority recommendations chosen by a poll of the Taskforce. Then, the City Council will determine which of the recommendations to act upon.
First, we will discuss which of the 90 recommendations Make Oakland Better Now! supports as the best money saving/alternate response recommendations. Second, we will discuss those recommendations where the intention is to change the culture of OPD. And finally, we will discuss those that do not fit into either category, although they are intended to increase public safety. In this post, we will be discussing those in the first two categories.
Part 1. Money Saving Recommendations
The premise of many of the money-saving recommendations is that a sworn officer is more expensive than a non-sworn person due to the higher salaries, fringe benefits and cost of overtime paid. Hence, the most-mentioned recommendation is number 57: “Immediately make a long-term investment in MACRO,” the program to send an EMT and a counselor to those 911 quality of life calls that do not call for an armed response, such as complaints about the homeless; and, its twin, number 60: “Create a civilian Community Ambassadors program to respond to non-violent non-mental health incidents.” In the same category of alternate responses are recommendations 59: “Move most traffic enforcement to the Department of Transportation,” number 86: “Transfer special event duties out of OPD,” number 31: “Transfer most of the OPD Internal Affairs department to the Community Police Review Agency, (the civilian investigative group who report to the Police Commission),” and number 61: “Dissolve OPD Homeless Outreach Unit and reinvest in mobile street outreach.” The details of each of the above recommendations must be worked out by the Administration. Establishing new programs will not provide short-term cost savings, as people will need to be hired, new departments created, etc. MOBN! favors in principle the above recommendations.
Others, which are not well thought out, we are not in favor of. Number 89: “Cap OPD Overtime” will not work because, as one East Oakland Resident asked, “what is going to happen when they are above their cap? They won’t respond to my 911 call, that’s for sure.” Recommendation 50: “Reallocate and Reinvest Funds from the OPD budget into other areas that increase public safety” is the de-fund recommendation, advocating that the budget just be cut and the money given to other departments with no consideration of the impact on service. MOBN! does not support that.
Part 2. OPD Structural Change
Part of reimagining policing is proposing changes to OPD so that it is perceived as less of a semi-militarized organization and more as a community partner in safety. The recommendations in this area range from the very sweeping recommendation 36/97: “Establish a Department of Public Safety,” where it is proposed that there be a new department that encompasses OPD, the DVP and the other alternative response departments recommended above, and Recommendation 41: “Reorganizing OPD’s Internal Structure” (which was originally proposed from within OPD), to the very detailed Number 152: “Eliminate the OPD mounted horses unit” and Number 38: “Eliminate the Bearcat ASAP.” The Bearcat is the armored vehicle that was deployed in the killing of Joshua Pawlik. Included in these recommendations for improvement are Number 32: “Re-writes of the OPD Manual Of Rules and Discipline Matrix,” Number 1: “Create an Oakland Specific Crowd Control Ordinance,” Number 8: “Remedies for Misconduct,” Number 21: “Changes to Recruiting and Hiring,” Number 22: “Update OPD Promotion Process,” Number 37: “Institute a Cross-functional team to approach crisis response,” a number of recommendations for increasing accountability and the transparency of data on officer misconduct, and, for the general de-militarization of OPD. To do any of this would mean re-negotiating the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Oakland Police Officer’s Association, the labor agreement between the City and the police union. Re-negotiating the MOU is included in recommendations 57 and 106. Other than the very sweeping Department of Public Safety none of these recommendations are bad ideas, and that one only because by its definition it seems to have the whole of City Government under the one department. Getting them all implemented would be a multi-year task, however, because of the MOU, bureaucratic intransigency, and the current Measure Z limitations on decreasing the number of police. The MOBN! position is that these recommendations should be documented and turned over to the Police Commission for future improvements in OPD.
Recommendation 103/88 is to increase the Police Commission staff, which we believe needs to be done irrespective of the Reimagining outcomes.
Part 3. General Violence Prevention
There are many recommendations to increase funding for services, programs, and good causes, such as numbers 71, 72, 73 and 74 which would increase funding for gender-based violence intervention programs, and 81, to make Community College free. Recommendation 66 is to stop enforcing laws that criminalize sex trade between consenting adults. Number 99 is to have the city implement a racial profiling ordinance to deter false calls for service. There are a number of recommendations to end poverty, improve education, increase police participation in community events, etc. Many of these recommendations, if acted upon, would in fact result in a safer Oakland, and the challenge is to determine how to fund them all. As of now, MOBN! has no position on these recommendations.