Op-Ed: Civilians Should Oversee the Police

Photo courtesy of CBS Local.

Photo courtesy of CBS Local.

By Larry C. White

 

Jerry Brown was mayor of Oakland in 2003 when the Oakland Police Department was put under the supervision of federal Judge Thelton Henderson as fallout from the “Riders” scandal.

 

 

Brown long ago moved on to Sacramento, but Judge Henderson still oversees the OPD, which has been unable to comply with the reforms he ordered.

 

Reform was supposed to take no more than five years. It’s been 13 years, and the job is still not done.

 

Oakland has so far spent more than $30 million to pay for a federal monitor and compliance director. Yet federal oversight has not stopped police misconduct.

 

In the past 13 years, Oakland has paid at least $70 million to settle lawsuits based on the actions of OPD officers. The human toll of police misconduct can’t be reduced to numbers and it has got to stop.

 

Since 2003, there have been four mayors, eight city administrators, and five police chiefs (seven if you count the two that came and went in a week in June). None of them have reformed the police. Most of them didn’t even try.

 

This clearly isn’t just an Oakland Police Department problem–it’s an Oakland city government problem.

 

There is finally a chance to break Oakland’s cycle of indifference to police reform. It’s called Measure LL.

 

Although it was put on the November ballot by the City Council in a unanimous vote, Measure LL is largely the product of a group of concerned citizens from diverse backgrounds working under the name “Coalition for Police Accountability.”

 

The text of the law originated in the coalition’s drafting committee and was taken by Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo, who changed parts of it to deal with political realities in City Hall.

 

The final measure is not everything that the Coalition wanted but it does the essential job–it represents the Coalition’s vision of a strong and independent civilian oversight body.

 

Measure LL will create the Oakland Police Commission and the Community Police Review Agency. There will be seven volunteer commissioners, three chosen directly by the mayor and four chosen by a Selection Panel made up of City Council member appointees.

 

No current or former sworn member of the OPD or officer of the police union can be a police commissioner.

 

This process was designed by the coalition to insulate the commission from political considerations as much as possible.

 

The Oakland Police Commission will most likely be the only police oversight body in the country where the majority of whose members are not directly appointed by politicians.

 

The agency will investigate civilian complaints against police officers and recommend discipline to the commission.

 

The commission will have the power to discipline officers found guilty of misconduct and will also be able to review and change the OPD’s policies unless the City Council vetoes its action.

 

The commission will have the power to fire the police chief.

 

If Measure LL passes, Oakland will finally have a means of making the Police Department accountable to its residents. The Oakland Police Commission itself is not the destination of fair and constitutional policing.

 

That will still take constant citizen involvement. But it will be the vehicle to get us to that place.

 

Larry C. White is a volunteer attorney with the Coalition for Police Accountability.

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