Oakland approves crime-fighting steps after stormy meeting
After a grueling nine-hour meeting, the Oakland City Council early Wednesday approved a host of measures aimed at reversing a deadly rise in crime, including a consulting contract with former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton.
It was Bratton’s role that sparked the greatest controversy. Hundreds of people packed the council chambers and four overflow rooms to weigh in on the contract, which will go not directly to Bratton but to Strategic Policy Partnership, a consulting firm headed by former Houston police chief Robert Wasserman.
Wasserman had sought to bring Bratton in as a sub-consultant, and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and current police Chief Howard Jordan advocated strongly for him in recent weeks, calling him “a brilliant mind in policing.”
The situation is dire. Oakland has lost a quarter of its sworn police force over the last four years. And 2012 saw a 23% jump in violent crimes over the previous year. Officers are so overburdened with 911 calls that they have no time for proactive policing, officials say. Burglaries have soared by nearly 50%.
The discord, finally put to rest by a 7-1 vote at 2:07 a.m. to approve the contract, centered around Bratton’s use of “stop and frisk” policies while heading the nation’s two largest departments -- in New York City and Los Angeles.
Quan, Jordan and several council members have stressed repeatedly that Oakland would steer clear of racial profiling. After all, the city is under strict monitoring by a federal judge as it attempts to comply with a decade-old settlement agreement that stemmed from the beating and framing of African American residents in West Oakland.
Yet the issue still dominated raucous testimony. Jessica Hollie, a young activist who is expecting a baby, wept as she described her reaction at discovering her child is male.
“I’m sad and scared to be having a black boy in Oakland,” she said before describing a recent scene she witnessed, in which she said officers roughly detained and questioned two young black men who appeared to be doing nothing more than strolling down the street near City Hall wearing blue shirts.
“I don’t think this should be the accepted practice,” she said.
Others who attended Tuesday’s meeting, however, spoke passionately of the need for change.
“The blood of black boys and brown boys is all in our streets,” said Bishop Bob Jackson, who heads Oakland’s Acts Full Gospel Church. “If Bill Bratton is a strategic thinker … I’m for Bill Bratton.”
Jackson was among a group of ministers who advocated for the contract, and Bratton’s inclusion. All spoke of the constant grief they confront in their congregations due to gun violence.
The contract will go toward development of short- and long-term crime-fighting strategies and Bratton will also help Oakland refine its use of its computerized policing management system, CompStat.
The council also approved a temporary contract with Alameda County sheriff’s deputies to assist in patrols, advanced a measure for a third police academy, and voted to hire 20 civilian technicians who can perform some of the duties of sworn officers to free them up for more specialized police work.
“Bratton’s job [will] be to give Chief Jordan the best information and the smartest advice he can,” Quan said in an open letter to the council. “Chief Jordan’s job will be to consider that advice and take accountability for the final decisions about our police department and how to make best use of the limited resources on hand. And my job, together with the City Council and City Administrator Deanna Santana, will be to find more ways to build those resources.”
Quan’s letter also noted that, while Bratton can be a controversial figure, the ACLU in Los Angeles reported a dramatic drop in police-related complaints during Bratton’s tenure as chief of the LAPD.
-- Lee Romney in Oakland