The existing Citizens Police Review Board and Community Policing Advisory Board are under the authority of the City Administrator.
This past June the Coalition for Police Accountability, of which I am a member, proposed a ballot measure to amend the city charter to create a Public Safety Oversight Commission (PSOC) that would be totally independent of the Oakland Police Department (OPD). This initiative was supported by City Council Public Safety Committee Chair Noel Gallo who explained that while he personally didn’t see the need for it, he respected the requests of many of his constituents to put this on the ballot.
This past week our coalition met with Council Member Gallo and his Public Safety subcommittee. He reaffirmed his support for putting a measure on the ballot.
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There are many good reasons to support our modest ballot proposal or a similar one that could be crafted by bringing together even more participants including OPD and the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA).
Currently these two existing boards -the Citizens Police Review Board and Community Policing Advisory Board – duplicate much of the civilian complaint investigations done by sworn officers within OPD’s Internal Affairs Department.
The PSOC would consolidate the staff of these boards so there would not be any additional costs.
Using only civilians for the proposed Oversight Commission to perform the investigations would cost about 50 percent less than sworn officers employed by Internal Affairs. That in turn would free up experienced sworn officers for street duty and could eliminate the need for additional expensive academies.
The commission would serve proactively as a early warning system to identify problem officers before their behavior leads to costly lawsuits.
To me as a volunteer Oakland fiscal watchdog for years,there is sufficient reason to get this on the ballot and approve this City Charter amendment is to start the work to gain the “hearts and minds” of many residents who won’t cooperate with OPD because they don’t trust them to police them fairly, let alone to protect them if they do cooperate.
Oakland can’t afford to hire enough police to occupy all of Oakland. Costly surveillance equipment will not compensate for the lack of cooperation from residents. The police department has to earn the trust of residents.
A Public Safety Oversight Commission would be an important step in achieving that trust by using only civilian investigators and having the power to discipline problem officers.
Let’s not study this to death.