By Rashidah Grinage
“If not for the court’s intervention, we have no confidence that correct discipline would have ever been imposed, criminal charges filed, or departmental shortcomings examined.…. Just as OPD required court intervention to conduct a thorough investigation, the City required Court intervention to investigate the Department, and that too raises questions of sustainable progress in the absence of Court supervision.” ~ Ed Swanson
In 2011, it seemed likely that the City of Oakland might soon petition the federal court to end its oversight of the Oakland Police Department (OPD, asserting that the city had fully complied with the tasks set out in the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) – a set of reforms agreed to in 2003 in the wake of the class action law suit known as the “Riders’.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys had required, in addition to a huge financial settlement that the city also enter into an agreement that would require substantial reforms in police practices, training, supervision and discipline to be completed within five years.
The question People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO) asked was, “What’s to prevent the city from backsliding after the court’s supervision ends? What’s to ensure that OPD will continue to operate in an equitable, constitutional manner free of racial profiling?”
We concluded that once the court’s oversight ended, we would have nothing in place to guarantee continued compliance with these reforms, which was unacceptable.
It was clear that OPD was resistant to reform, that the Citizens’ Police Review Board lacked the authority needed to hold the police department accountable, and that none of the city’s mayors had been able to get OPD to comply with the NSA.
What was needed was a structural change: a change in the city’s charter that would transfer authority from the City Administrator to a Police Commission, which would have the power to rule on policy as well as discipline officers.
We knew that we would need to build a strong, community-based coalition to create a ballot measure to achieve those changes. The Coalition for Police Accountability began to take shape and start work on the Charter change in 2012.
By the time of last year’s election, when 83 percent of Oakland voters approved Measure LL, establishing Oakland’s first Police Commission, it was clear that the community had reached the same conclusion that Ed Swanson articulated in his recent report.
The city itself, not just OPD, lacked the ability to adequately manage its police department. In its 14th year of federal oversight, it is clear that there will be parallel agencies overseeing OPD beginning this fall: the federal court (and its monitor) and the Oakland Police Commission.
In September, the City Council will be presented with a slate of seven candidates for commissioners and two candidates for alternates. Five will be submitted by the nine-member selection pane, and four will have been selected by Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Soon thereafter, the Police Commission will be seated. Its meetings will be public and televised on KTOP, and there will be hearings on issues important to the community.
And just as the commission will be expected to hold the police department accountable, so must the residents of Oakland hold the commission accountable.
We should expect the commission’s work to hasten our exit from federal oversight and begin to provide police services that exemplify “best practices.”
It will take all of us staying engaged and committed to make this a reality.