Local police accountability activists have begun a campaign to place a measure on the November ballot to create a Public Safety Oversight Commission, which would have the authority to monitor, audit and determine the policies and practices of the Oakland Police Department.
“With federal oversight set to expire within the next year or two, we need some way to continue the oversight and monitoring the court has been doing for 11 years,” said Rashidah Grinage, Executive Director of People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO).
“All of these gains are in jeopardy of being lost,” she said.
The ballot measure would transfer the authority over the police department to the commission from the city administrator, who at present has that responsibility under the City Charter.
“History has shown that city administration, because they are responsible for all departments, cannot devote sufficient times and energy to the police department,” Grinage said. “None of them were able to get the job done.”
The need for change is inescapable, she said. During the last 10 years, Oakland has paid out tens of millions of dollars in settlements of police misconduct lawsuit – more than San Francisco and San Jose combined, Grinage said.
According to a report by Oakland Local, the total cost of these lawsuits to the city was least $74 million.
The immediate goal is to create sufficient public support for the measure so the City Council will the put amendment to the City Charter on the ballot, since activists do not feel there is sufficient time to gather signatures for a voter-sponsored initiative.
To develop the measure, Grinage and others have have held conversations with City Council members and consulted experts in civilian oversight. The model they are using is based on the police commission that already exists in San Francisco.
The Oakland measure would create a nine-member panel, appointed by the mayor and council members, and composed of attorneys and a diverse cross section of the community.
Policy issues, such as Ceasefire, gang injunctions and youth curfews, would be discussed at public meetings, with sufficient opportunity for community members to weigh in. The commission would make recommendations to the council’s Public Safety Committee and the City Council.
In addition, the measure would give commission subpoena power, which Grinage says it needs in order to examine how OPD expends public funds. Up to now, she said, commissions and even city staff have been unable to gain access to what should be public records, she said.
Supporters have begun a petition to support placing a Public Safety Oversight Commission on the November ballot. The petition is online at www.ipetitions.com/petition/oakland-needs-a-police-commission