Category Archives: Transparency / Accountability

Oakland’s Police Commission: Where We Stand

IMG_3792
Oakland City Council will be considering a ballot measure establishing a police commission, civilian inspector general, and Community Police Review Agency at its meeting on Tuesday, July 19 at 5pm.

We posted about this measure on our blog when it was going to the Public Safety Committee last month. (There’s also been plenty of local news coverage from San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Times, and East Bay Express.)

We’ve reviewed the Police Commission Charter Amendment in full, the most recent revision, and a red-lined revision from the Alameda County Labor Council. Exactly what will go to Council for a vote remains unclear, but here is what we know so far: Continue reading

Mayor’s State of the City Address: Accountability, Infrastructure, and Housing

sevendays

In our last post we analyzed Mayor Libby Schaaf’s strategy for “holistic community safety” outlined in her State of the City address. Today, we’ll continue our discussion, looking at her other three stated top priorities: responsive, trustworthy government, sustainable infrastructure, and equitable jobs and housing. 

Responsive, trustworthy government 

The Mayor’s total policy discussion on accountability was as follows:

“I could tell you about our transparency and ‘gov 2.0’ projects—like our Digital Front Door website redesign, our employee civic lab or plans for a 3-1-1 call center, but it really starts with the people.”

She then praised top staff members, the City Administrator, and other recent additions to her team.

Our take:
We don’t criticize the Mayor for publicly and openly supporting her people—that’s an important part of leadership. But we call for more emphasis on policy. A starting point might be these initiatives from her campaign white paper on how to “bring Oakland government into the 21st Century”:

What I Will Do 

Implement 311 System for better service delivery:
Do you know what number to call to report illegal dumping or a pothole? Most big cities use a 3-1-1 system to make it easy for residents to request help from their government. As Mayor I will implement a world-class 311 customer service center that transitions the City to a new generation of technology that centralizes citizen requests and makes the process and resolution of each request accessible to the public 24/7 on our website.

CityStat and the Office of Strategic Performance:
I will link the 311 service request system with a CityStat performance accountability system led by a newly established Office of Strategic Performance (see Louisville, Kentucky for a good model). I will work with department heads to establish clear performance measures and nurture a culture of continuous improvement within City Hall. In pursuit of this goal, OSP will help City departments and agencies deliver high quality services to citizens in a cost-efficient and transparent manner. Three core efforts include strategic planning, performance management, continuous improvement consulting and training. We can save on technology procurement dollars by conducting internal and external user research to scope projects more efficiently, determine what the needs are and design a scope of work to fulfill those needs. Too often contracts are signed without a clear understanding of the pain points, and key opportunities to solve actual problems are missed.

Sometime soon, Oaklanders should hear about where we stand on these efforts.

More after the break. Continue reading

Mayor’s State of the City Address: What the Mayor Said About Safety, And What We Think

libbyportrait
As many Oaklanders have heard, Mayor Libby Schaaf gave her first State of the City Address last week at City Hall. You can watch the full video and a read a complete transcript on the city’s website, and find recaps in the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Tribune and Oakland North.

Oaklanders are fiercely divided on issues such gentrification, affordable housing,
development, crime and safety. We argue over the future of our city, we disagree. But as the Mayor emphasized, twice in her speech, “We must turn toward each other, not on each other.”

Mayor Schaaf returned to four basic priorities for Oakland that she first outlined during her campaign and at her inauguration: holistic community safety, equitable jobs and housing, sustainable infrastructure, and responsive, trustworthy government.

In this post, we’ll focus on holistic community safety, summarize the Mayor’s positions, and present some thoughts of our own.

Holistic Community Safety

The mayor began by expressing optimism about violent crime trends, citing numbers purportedly showing “Oakland is getting safer.”

For the third consecutive year, we have double digit reductions in non-fatal shootings — down 14% compared to this time last year. Residential burglaries and home-invasion robberies are significantly down, 15 and 54%, respectively. We’ve had a similar number of robberies as last year, which continues to be 27% below the previous 3 years average.

She then acknowledged that murders were up by 15% from last year and at the time of her speech there had been 71 homicides so far in 2015.  “I can’t celebrate improvements while overall levels of fear and harm in this city remain so unacceptably high. And behind every number and trend line lies a heartbreaking story of loss.”

That brought us to what was going to change:

  • The Mayor announced that 35 new officers were graduating from academy on October 30, that 50 more were in training, and that we were “on-track to meet my promise of 800 officers by 2017.”
  • She stated Oakland would use “recently awarded federal grants to hire walking officers for our commercial corridors, expand our 21st century policing reforms, and combat the horrific sexual exploitation of minors in Oakland.”
  • She promised that Oakland would strengthen Cease Fire, would expand it to reduce robberies, and would more than double case managers and increase street outreach workers.
  • She applauded Oakland Police Chief Whent for recognizing that “policing is about being guardians of the community not warriors within it,” and promised that OPD would “reduce arrests by 26% and use-of-force by 15%, while continuing to bring down crime.”
  • She stressed the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the police department’s Procedural Justice Training, giving a shout out to Rev. Damita Davis-Howard from Oakland Community Organizations and PICO’s Pastor Ben McBride for their guidance.
  • Finally, the Mayor promised: “By the end of the year we’ll release Oakland’s first Comprehensive Community Safety Plan, crafted by a diverse array of experts. It will create better collaboration and collective accountability for a holistic set of goals—ranging from increasing high school graduation rates to improving reentry support to making Oakland a restorative justice city.”

Continue reading

3 Takeaways from Our Meeting with City Auditor Brenda Roberts

brenda_roberts

Make Oakland Better Now!’s board recently met with City Auditor Brenda Roberts to talk about how her office can make a greater impact on Oakland’s ethics, integrity, and productivity. We wanted to share three big takeaways from our meeting and look at how Roberts plans to run a “world class audit shop.”

1. More Transparency, Less Arm-Twisting

At her inauguration in January, Roberts promised to be an “auditor for all of Oakland,” for renters and homeowners, taxpayers and small businesses. To reach this goal, her office is not just following the money, but promoting collaboration and transparency citywide.

Roberts is more process than outcome focused when it comes to promoting strong finances. Basically, she says, it doesn’t help to find out at the end of a project that it’s gone over-budget, to do a postmortem for the city. “When it’s already in the headlines, what do you want me to report?”

But Roberts sees more and more departments reaching out first, opening lines of communication, and opening their books for review. This a good sign. It shows the auditor’s office is starting to build trust and inspire teamwork. “When someone says, ‘Can you come and look at my department?’ – that’s exactly what I want to hear.”

This allows her office to do more consulting and less arm-twisting. They’re able to set milestones, track change orders, run user-acceptance tests, and overall make the evaluation process much more rigorous.

2. A Risk-Focused Oakland

As City Auditor, Roberts says she is focusing on Oakland’s greatest risks – risks to the city’s budget and image, to health and safety. Part of this approach is about raising awareness in the community about fraud, waste and abuse, and managing a hotline for new reports.

It’s also about being the best watchdog and breaking up Oakland’s “culture of interference.” This is a wide-ranging effort: The City Auditor’s office is looking at noncompliances, creating business continuity plans, examining hiring and retention practices – including on the job training, talent acquisition, vacancies, technology or skillset deficiencies – and much more.

From all this, Roberts is trying to create a “heat map” of risk. Her office has especially focused on getting resources to decentralized departments, what she calls a “further from the mothership” approach.

She’s also focused on who the city partners with – contractors, service providers, and nonprofits – groups she feels are more likely for budget burnout or fraud.  It’s necessary to keep these partners on a “short, tight rein,” she said.

Roberts is pushing for smarter, stronger internal controls where her office is seeing a general lack of procedures and policy. In this year’s police overtime audit, for example, they exposed a need for more effective overtime and comp time management and more realistic OPD budgets.

3. Oakland Needs a Time Audit

The City Auditor’s risk-based approach is almost a necessity, brought on by her office’s lack of resources. “Right now, there’s no time to say ‘nice job,’” Roberts said.

Roberts heads a 10-person staff with about a $1.5 million budget–that’s a few people and thousands of dollars too short. There are some short-term solutions to make up the difference like getting grants for interns and fellows. There are also policy changes to consider like setting a portion of every department’s budget aside for the auditor’s office.

Right now, they’re preparing a handful of mandatory audits including audits for Measure M and N, an audit of 911 services,  and an audit of the Oakland Fire Department’s wildfire prevention measures.

Roberts notes that these rolling audits sometimes feel “unfocused,” tying up her office, and at their worst risk becoming a waste of energy. She would rather see audit policy more in line with her process-based approach, more open than after-the-fact. (Of course removing a ballot-measure approved mandate requires another ballot measure.)


MOBN would like to thank City Auditor Brenda Roberts for her time and her work at City Hall. We look forward to following her progress.

Ten Strategies to Make Oakland Better (4): Public Ethics Commission Reform

Ten Strategies to Make Oakland Better

Strategy Four: Put Public Ethics Commission Reform On The Ballot and Pass It Now

Make Oakland Better Now! was established to advocate for public safety, public works, government transparency, accountability and budget Reform. Often, however, we are recognized simply as advocates for increasing the size of the Police Department. While we stand by our position that Oakland desperately needs 925 sworn officers, much more is needed to make Oakland the city its residents want and deserve. This is the fourth installment in our ten part series on steps Oakland can and should take to make this a better, safer and more sustainable city. We announced some time ago that our public ethics commission reform ideas would be coming up “shortly.” But before we got there, Council Member Kalb, and a “Good Government Working Group” including highly respected members of the League of Women Voters, MapLIght, California Common Cause, California Forward, The Greenlining Institute and other good government groups put together a proposal, and we thought their proposal deserved an evaluation before we went further.

We’ve completed that evaluation, and it’s a positive one. On Tuesday, July 15, Council will consider placing this on the ballot. We believe it should, and that voters should support it. Here’s our brief analysis.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Numbers And Nonsense In Oakland’s Search for Public Safety

Make Oakland Better Now! has started a 10 part series on strategies for making Oakland better, and we will be continuing with that soon.  But others have good ideas as well, and we want to share some.   The ideas in this guest post are those of Steve Spiker. A self-described urbanist, technologist, photographer and husband and father, almost new home owner, he is the Research Director for Urban Strategies.    His blog, where this post first appeared, is here.  

Oakland is once again talking about data and facts concerning crime, causes and policing practices, except we’re not really. We’re talking about an incredibly thin slice of a big reality, a thin slice that’s not particularly helpful, revealing nor empowering. And this is how we always do it.

Chip Johnson is raising the flag on our lack of a broad discussion about the complexity of policing practices and the involvement of African-Americans in the majority of serious crimes in our city, and on that I say he’s dead right, these are hard conversations and we’ve not really had them openly. The problem is, the data we’re given as the public (and our decision makers have about the same) is not sufficient to plan with, make decisions from nor understand much at all.  Once again we’re given a limited set of summary tables that present just tiny nuances of reality and that do not allow for any actual analyses by the public nor by policy makers. And if you believe that internal staff get richer analysis and research to work with you’re largely wrong.

Continue reading

City Council to Consider Adopting Budget and Amendments Tonight

Tonight, beginning sometime after 6:30pm, the Oakland City Council is expected to adopt the fiscal year 2013-2015 budget (item #9).  The importance of the budget can hardly be understated: this document will control the City’s expenditures over the next two years.  The budget is where the Council is called upon to put its money where its mouth is; more than any other document, it reflects the values and priorities of our elected leadership.

In April the Mayor submitted her budget to the City Council, which proposes $487 million in appropriations over two years.  You can find MOBN!’s discussion of the Mayor’s budget here, here, and here.

Continue reading