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Oakland proposes new public safety measures

At 2 A.M. on Dec. 23, the Oakland City Council approved a proposal to hire William Bratton as a consultant to the Oakland Police Department. Former chief commissioner to NYC and Police Chief to Los Angeles, Bratton will visit Oakland over the next six months and consult OPD on strategies to address growing crime in the city.

West Oakland resident Aeesha Clotty speaks out against the hiring of William Bratton at the Dec. 23 City Council Meeting. Councilmember Larry Reid is seen with head lowered at the meeting, which lasted until 3 a.m. Over 500 members of the Oakland community attended the meeting with 260 scheduled speakers. (Annie O'Hare)

Over 500 members of the community attended the city council meeting to observe and speak before the council. They filled the chambers and four hearing rooms elsewhere in City Hall.

The Strategic Policy Partnership Contract Amendment, which will hire Bratton on to a team of policing consultants, was one of four items on the meeting’s agenda meant to address growing violent crime and a shrinking police force.

The other three measures, all proposed by Councilmembers Libby Shaaf and Larry Reid, are aimed at supplementing a dwindling police force by contracting administrative work to civilians, funding an additional police academy and contracting a temporary hire of officers from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

All four measures passed.

Current Chief of Police Howard Jordan first proposed the $250,000 contract amendment to hire Bratton, among other additions, late October with the support of Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana. It is an addition to an existing contract with  Strategic Policy Partnership, LLC, which is headed by Bob Wasserman.

The choice to hire Bratton has struck a chord for Oakland residents and more the 260 individuals filed to speak before the city council on the item.

A majority of those opposed to the contract were concerned that Bratton would bring the aggressive policing strategies he introduced as police commissioner and Chief of Police in NYC and Los Angeles to Oakland.

Most publicly debated of these strategies is “stop and frisk,” where police officers may detain any individual they consider suspicious and frisk them, primarily for concealed weapons.

Denise Mewborn, a member of All of Us or None, an organization that works with previously incarcerated individuals, spoke to the council about the ramifications of Bratton-style policing in New York.

“Stop and frisk is only the tip of the iceberg,” Mewborn said. She cited vast increases in mass incarceration due to zero tolerance policies, and cuts to schools and youth programs to pay for beefed up policing.

When Chief Jordan introduced his plan to the meeting, he declared that he only supported “constitutional policing” and would not allow stop and frisk to come to Oakland.

“I don’t support [stop and frisk] and I’m not going to condone it,” Jordan said. “Our policies will not allow that to happen.”

The current murder rate in Oakland is the highest in six years with 131 deaths in 2012. But the money paid out in lawsuits against police is also growing.

According to a June 27 article in East Bay Express, “Police related legal costs spike in Oakland,” legal costs incurred by the OPD totaled over $13 million in the fiscal year 2010-2011. The majority of that, over $12 million, went to settlements stemming from civil-rights violations such as police brutality, illegal searches, and false arrests.

OPD is still struggling to comply with court-mandated reforms stemming from a decade-old law suit, referred to as the Rider case.

Due to its failure to meet reform deadlines from that negotiated settlement agreement (NSA), OPD narrowly avoided full federal takeover and now requires a federal compliance officer with deciding powers.

Jordan’s promise to keep stop and frisk out of Oakland did not seem to comfort speakers who see OPD officers as a problem in their community.

Jessica Hollie spoke to the council about the racial profiling she has witnessed by police in Oakland, especially as it affects men of color.

“I’m sad and scared to be having a black boy in Oakland,” Hollie, who is pregnant with a son, said.

Use of stop and frisk strategies has recently come under scrutiny in New York. In 2011 police officers made nearly 700,000 stops, according to the New York Times. 85% of those were performed on young black and Hispanic men.

In January 2013, a federal judge ruled that NYPD was performing unconstitutional stops in private residential Bronx buildings participating in the “Clean Halls” program.

Beyond that the number of stops are still growing in NYC, between January and March of 2012, stops jumped to 203,500 from  183,326 from the same quarter the year earlier

Distrust of police was on the mind of many speakers at the council meeting. Many wore “Justice 4 Alan Blueford” T-shirts, referring to a young man of color who was shot and killed by police in May 2012.

Adam Blueford, Alan’s father, spoke against hiring Bratton, saying giving police more power would be especially dangerous for young people.

“Kids will be killed in the streets of Oakland,” Blueford said.

Those in support of hiring Bratton voiced their frustration at the growing violence in Oakland.

Bishop Jackson spoke of the safety of children as a reason to hire Bratton, calling the plan “help we desperately need.”

Rev. Gregory Patton of West Oakland also came out to support the measure.

“It may not be perfect, but at least we’re trying to do something,” the Reverend said.

The question stands whether increasing the police force as well as implementing Bratton’s suggestions will make Oakland a safer place or one more dangerous for a select population.