Policing in Oakland: A troubled history with opportunities for change

Hello folks,

On September 21st, the League of Women Voters Oakland opened its 2017–2018 Speakers Series with Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, Oakland’s newest police chief. Chief Kirkpatrick has a very challenging job as Oakland’s top police officer.

Chief Kirkpatrick addresses League and community members at Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church

Oakland has had a challenging time with its police department. In the 1970s, as a result of multiple police shootings of civilians, the Citizens Police Review Board was established. For many years, the board was quite biased in favor of the police.

That began to change in the 1990s when PUEBLO (People United for a Better Oakland) and the ACLU challenged the actions of the Citizens Police Review Board in Court. In the early 2000s, the infamous “Riders” case rocked the police department and resulted in a court-mandated Federal Monitor. Judge Felton Henderson’s original order imposing the Federal Monitor was to complete improvements to the police force over five years. After ten years, the job was not complete and the department continued to be monitored. Police chiefs came and went.

Then, in 2016, the department was rocked by a sexual abuse scandal which resulted in four police chiefs in ten days. The department was then administered by Oakland’s City Administrator, Sabrina Landreth, until the selection last spring of Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. Last year, voters mandated a new “Police Commission” to replace Oakland’s Citizens Police Review Board.

Oakland’s troubled police department is not alone. There were many troubled police departments across the country. Black Lives Matter, a movement that has taken hold across the country, began here in Oakland to protest police involvement in the deaths of young African American men.

This Thursday, September 28th at 6pm, you’re welcome to weigh in during LWVO’s Hot Topics session. We will look at recommendations by the Los Angeles League addressing police community relations. Our League chapter’s Action Committee believes that these recommendations are well worth considering for Oakland. Among positions we will review and discuss are the following:

  1. Utilize state-of-the art technologies for data gathering and data analysis to provide fact-based evidence, regarding what works and what doesn’t.
  2. Encourage community policing, de-escalation strategies and anti-bias training. Create a climate of trust so that people are not afraid to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement investigations. Ensure that officers whose use of excessive force is deemed to be out-of-policy and are appropriately disciplined.
  3. Solicit community feedback so that police-sponsored programs can be tailored to community needs.
  4. Provide programs that increase safety, e.g. Community-Police Advisory Board, Neighborhood Watch, community mediation, youth activities (Summer Night Lights), reentry services for formerly incarcerated.
  5. Protect the privacy of financial disclosure and personal data of officers and civilians.
  6. Maximize recruitment outreach efforts that result in the hiring of more women and in a department that reflects the community. Recruit people who have the qualities required for relationship-based policing.

Great positions to consider, don’t you agree? Come be part of a solution to Oakland’s police issues. Help LWVO’s voice be more effective in this area affecting one of our city’s critical agencies.

Be bold! Be active! Be thoughtful! Be involved! Be an Oakland Leaguer!

Louise Rothman-Riemer

President, League of Women Voters of Okaldn