Recently I had the pleasure of watching Chief Whent describe how the Oakland Police will comply with the terms and conditions required after the Riders rogue cop scandal of over a decade ago. After many turns, a lawsuit and a few failures to meet the standards set for our Oakland Police, we have come to be under the supervision of “compliance director” with a clear plan to end police abuse in our city.
The talk is that Whent is our interim chief because that is who our compliance director Frazier wanted. Whatever the truth is behind the quick departure of Chief Jordan, the unexplained two day tenure of Interim Chief Torribio and then Chief Whent’s appointment, the one thing we know for sure is that the official stories are a half truth, at best. Some questions do not get answers.
The last time I had been in the room where Chief Whent was speaking it was to see the top leadership in law enforcement in our area. We had not less than the then Chief of Oakland Police Jordan along with our District Attorney, the head of County Probation, the supervising judge of the local Superior Court, and the County Public Defender. Quite a crew of powerful top officials.
Each of them gave less than inspired descriptions of how they are all coordinating to stop youth violence and crime. There was talk of this program and that for our youth. A lot of talk was about prevention and restorative justice. Then it was time for questions.
I had a question. I always do don’t I? All I wanted to know was the total number of people caught up in the system? Like how many Oaklanders are in jail and prison? How many are on probation and parole? And what is the flow rate? How many people on average are being released to our community from incarceration, say per week? And on the other end, how many people are being prosecuted, judged and sentenced to jail or prison on average, say per week?
What I got was our DA O’Malley telling us that there is no way she can answer such a question. (she does not know how many people are successfully prosecuted on average?) She gave us some talk about how little the State Prisons and the State Parole system tells us about who they are releasing, when and under what conditions. She followed that with a painfully pedantic description of the step by step of a prison release. None of the other 4 illustrious panelists said a word, or a number.
They did not answer the question. It was a simple one and given who they were, these were numbers they should know off hand without having to look them up.
I was stunned. What I was expecting was a number that dwarfed all the programs. I was not expecting no answer at all. I asked my friend if I had not been clear. He told me that I had been perfectly clear and they had avoided answering. A couple other people seemed to feel the same way.
So our council member Libby Schaaf stood up and asked a more direct and pointed question:
“If all these programs are so good then why are things still so bad?”
There was more evasive answers, and given who had asked the question, they at least used more words not to answer her question than they had used to answer mine.
Finally the public defender said something about the restorative justice program they had been talking up only having room for one offender per week when the need was more like two hundred a month.
THAT was an answer at least.
Chief Whent is a good communicator. He is affable, and he speaks with clarity. One of the things that I appreciated about his presentation was that he made no bones about the police officers who had crossed the line. There was none of the cagey language or treating abuse by police officers as some kind of hypothetical. No, he talked about the problem as we know it is from the public record.
One thing he said impressed me, and that was using statistics to intervene on a police officer before trouble escalated. One of the stats they look at is if the officer stops more people of a certain race, or gender than others in the same squads. He said that often a problem starts in the attitude of an officer and if stopped then, we do not get to the part where they are roughing people up, planning evidence (I think he said gun) and other abuse. As he put it, the idea was to protect the public’s civil rights and intervene with an officer early enough to put them on track and have a chance to save their career.
He said a lot more, and was pretty frank about what part of the compliance director’s requirements would be easy to comply with and where we are probably in trouble. Where we are most in trouble is in the ratio of sergeants to patrol officers.
At the end we were given the floor for our questions. Most of the questions were about the relationship between the police and the public and the lack of trust that exists. Good questions and he addressed them pretty squarely. Some of what he had to say I agreed with, other ideas sounded too much along the lock-em-up paradigm for me.
Since others had asked the question of trust I asked another question:
“What do you say to the people of Oakland who do not believe anything will change?”
He said that he did not blame them and he did not think that the police will gain credibility unless they did two things in a way that the public would know it.
1) Come into full compliance with the court order and get police abuse under control.
2) Make a dent in crime.
I call that an answer.
I am still looking for some well sourced statistics on how many of our fellow residents are caught up in the criminal justice system one way or another.

3 Responses

  1. Kazu

    The problem is that we keep thinking that it’s the police’s job to reduce crime. Crime rates will not go down until we address poverty. It’s not the police’s job to create more jobs, help build healthier families, build better schools, offer services for people with addictions, etc. That’s our job as a community, we are the ones that need to step up and stop pointing the finger. I’m not in any way letting OPD off the hook here, we know how violent of a force they can be and there is good reason why the community doesn’t trust them. And there are DRASTIC, fundamental changes that need to happen within their practices, training, culture, policies, etc. But even if we have the best police force in the country, they are still just a police force and their job is mainly to respond to crime after it’s happened. We need a comprehensive strategy that involves all sectors of the city. Unfortunately there is too much conflict throughout Oakland, within OPD, within city counsel, within the nonprofits, within the school board, within the grassroots activist community, within religious leaders. It’s not just gangs that are fighting each other. Again we need to stop pointing the finger and work on our own community.

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  2. Henry

    “All I wanted to know was the total number of people caught up in the system? Like how many Oaklanders are in jail and prison? How many are on probation and parole? And what is the flow rate? How many people on average are being released to our community from incarceration, say per week? And on the other end, how many people are being prosecuted, judged and sentenced to jail or prison on average, say per week?”

    These are not simple questions. It takes workers time to gather statistics such as these and OPD is short workers that are not more directly involved with crime fighting. I am NOT a big defender of OPD; I am familiar with organizations and what it takes to understand some of the issues you bring up.

    Investigative reporters who use sunshine laws/Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests dig for the kind of info you are curious about and you do have good questions, but they are not “simple”! Mos def keep asking questions and dig-dig-dig. Peace

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  3. Tim

    If it’s the city of Oakland’s responsibility to fix all the structural problems that create crime, we are screwed. The city does not have the capability to end poverty. That needs to be addressed at the state and federal level. The crime we have is real, and it’s here today, so the city and police department need to do everything they can to address it as it exists.

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