Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Sean Whent  stood in the McClymonds High School auditorium on Saturday, February 22, for the first town hall on citywide public safety.  These meetings will take place in each of the five police districts over the next few months as the city begins a difficult conversation about reforms shaping the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and the responsibility of the community.

The town hall was nearly derailed early on. As Chief Whent made a round of opening remarks, protesters rose up, chanting “We don’t need more police.”  Dinyal New and members of Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.) were there to vent frustration and grief over the city’s inability to curb gun violence. Some carried signs, “If You Know Something Tell It.”  New lost two sons, Lee Weathersby and Lamar Broussard, in shootings 3 weeks apart in December and January. Others held up pictures of the teenagers. Chief Whent stood at the front of the room, at a loss as the group protested.

In the confusion, Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney came up to the mic to speak candidly with the protesters. “There is too much hurt,” she said, “but you are not the only one in pain.”

In a breakout session later in the afternoon, Chief Whent said he understood the intensity of New’s loss. “West Oakland has been far too affected, for far too long,” he said, but he put the focus on coming together as a neighborhood and said he hopes that the community and families here will find something in the plan that speaks to them, represents them, and provokes them to take action.

Earlier this year, a citywide public safety report was put together by crime consultant Robert Wasserman, with input from New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, to resolve disorder in Oakland by working as one city and coordinating departments. With more community buy-in, the report concludes, schools, businesses, and residents can help defuse robberies, chronic vandalism, and illegally dumped trash.

But city leaders were publically frustrated and unconvinced with the framework of the plan when the third and final part was released last month. Councilmember Desley Brooks called the outlines “obvious” and stated that the plan lacked tools, metrics, and priorities for crime-fighting. The question Oakland is still left with is what works and what doesn’t? The job of the town halls will be to show what the plan will actually look like once its on the streets, in neighborhoods, and across all districts.

A top concern in the breakout session was accountability, from the top brass down, and constitutional, community policing. Neighborhood Services Supervisor Joe DeVries said he wanted to make beat cops “take off the mirrored sunglasses,” renew the OPD’s reputation, and adapt to each neighborhood.

Chief Whent highlighted Oakland’s project Ceasefire, which calls in at-risk cases, such as known gang members, and introduces them to social and financial services as alternatives. In December, 19 out of 21 individuals brought in signed-up, a promising trend. It’s unclear now, however, if the services themselves can keep up with demand. “Nothing’s more dangerous than someone with nothing to lose,” Devries said. “Give them something to lose.”

OPD and Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils are also armed with new technology, such as repair-mapper SeeClickFix and gunfire tracker ShotSpotter, which unlocks data about where shots are fired. Speakers also mentioned that with the security camera lending program through Merchant Watch, small business can also help document suspicious activity in their area.

“We have ‘the teeth,'” DeVries said.

And while some balked at the surveillance, Mayor Quan argued that this technology brings Oakland in step with cities using the same tactics to get safe. “We can’t pretend to live in a world where these tools won’t help,” she said.

During the Q&A, many city residents said they were determined to zero-in on crime, but were not confident Oakland police could be responsive. One source of mistrust within the community is the lack of stability in beat policing, some said. A quick turnover of Problem Solving Officers within a neighborhood often means deeper problems and patterns are never seen.

Chief Whent agreed and said he would back incentives for police to stay on the same beat for a number of years.

But there is also the issue of numbers: The public safety report advises two officers for every 1,000 residents, or about 800 police officers in Oakland. There are currently about 624.

In the hallways after the meeting, the protesters who had cried out during the town hall were speaking with some of these officers, hearing each other out.

New public safety measures are about empowering Oakland, Chief Went said, especially those who don’t have a badge, and it won’t work without the neighborhood’s help. “Police can’t tell you what you need in your community.”

Town Hall Meetings

More meetings will be held:

Area 5 Saturday, March 15 @ Castlemont High School, 8601 MacArthur Blvd. 10:00-12:30
Area 4 Saturday, April 5 @ Fremont High School, 4610 Foothill Blvd. 10:00-12:30
Area 2 Saturday, April 19 @ North Oakland Senior Center, 5714 MLK, Jr. Way. 10:00-12:30
Area 3 Saturday, May 10 @ Bret Harte Middle School, 3700 Coolidge Ave. 10:00-12:30

About The Author

14 Responses

  1. R2D2II

    It ain’t the cops. It’s the elected officials who don’t get it. Brooks, Quan, McElhaney.

    Elected officials have the fundamental responsibility to make plans, set goals and see things through so that public safety and police reform move forward.

    Quan and Brooks have been doing nothing and passing the buck for decades together. McElhaney has only been doing nothing and passing the buck for a couple of years.

  2. Oakie

    Ceasefire is at best bad parenting, at worst a cruel joke. The primary reason our politicians love it is that it costs almost nothing (except for a single “manager” which they can give to virtually anyone they want since there is no skill set associated with it).

    So they had 19 of 21 of the criminal class they brought in “sign up” for services in December.

    How outstanding!

    And here are the quantifiable results:

    There have been 13 murders since January, an increase of 38% from last year’s comparable period.

    Great Job!

  3. brooklyn

    There is nothing that cleans up a city like the ooze of money. But the vast expanse of east oakland with it’s dense and poorly regulated housing from the redevelopment disasters of the 60’s and 80’s, combined with absentee private slumlords and corporate home buying/renting Land Lords, may never really be of interest to money. Hence, it is likely of no interest to oakland politicians to help that area, despite real need of attention and support. It may however be the next victim of new developers smelling money opportunities to veneer the area. It may slowly be saturated with a bigger proportion of new money like temescal or the mission, or echo park, due to trickle down of upper/ middle class money into lower priced housing opportunities.

    The people of crime strangled neighborhoods need ways to stand up and push back and show small minded people that society means education, opportunities, cooperation and joining in, and not being above the law.. We need support from police, community organizations and an actual functioning government that cares more about it’s citizens than it’s own prosperity. Oh forgot, this is Merica..

  4. Oakie

    Didn’t really follow your comments very well but thoroughly appreciate your phrasing in People of Crime.

    Much better than Criminal Class. After all, here in Merika, we live in a classless society. At least some people here are pretty classless 😉

  5. Daniella

    So we are 176 cops short in Oakland, and protesters are yelling out “We don’t need more police”?. Ummm… It sounds like that is exactly what we need. I think we have all called OPD at some point, and not had them show up. When they do, they are awesome and helpful, but they are simply too short of staff to answer every call. Bless the selfless men and women in blue who are willing to work and risk their lives in such a hostile city. Here is a video example of what disrespect OPD deals with: It’s a clip from People Behaving Badly.

  6. R2D2II

    Marshall Law? Is he a cousin of Marshall Dillon or perhaps Marsh Mellow?

    There is something called martial law which means essentially rule by the military and military law. We don’t want that in Oakland. Google “wars in Iraq” or “Nazi Paris” to give yourself an impression.

  7. Len Raphael

    I’m sure the officials were relieved by Council Member’s McElhaney’s skillful “I feel your pain” approach to the misbehaving audience.

    The mystery is why residents haven’t marched on City Hall with pitchforks and torches years ago demanding better public safety.

    But then skillful politicians have co-opted and manipulated the residents against each other for years, pushing largely unfocused ineffective pork barrel social programs for years and then doing a 180 degree switch to costly big name police consultants and high tech spying networks when the political winds changed.

  8. Russell

    The answer is simple. Stop running OPD like a for profit business. OPD spends their limited resources investigating drugs because it makes them money through federal “prizes” and forfeitures. The forensics for 95 percent of all drug cases are completed by the OPD within 24 hrs, while the forensics work for over 300 murder cases lay untouched for over 3 years. Stop focusing OPD limited resources on arresting nonviolent citizens and make murder, rape, and robbery the priorities and we will have a safer Oakland.

  9. Russell

    The answer to making Oakland more safe is simple. Stop running OPD like a for profit business. 95 percent of the forensics for drug offenses are processed within 24 hrs while the forensics for over 300 murders lay untouched for 10 years. Arresting nonviolent Oakland residents for drug possession is top priority because it makes OPD money through forfeitures and federal “prizes”. Make murder, rape, and robbery cases the priority and Oakland will be safer.

  10. R2D2II

    If what Russell says is true, then this is definitely a matter for a policy change in Oakland. Who is in charge of public policy? The City Council makes policy and the Mayor and Administrator make sure policy is carried out. OPD does the day-to-day stuff.

    Want a change in policy? Stop voting for the same old no-real-world-experience types like the Mayor and the current Council members. Vote for new people who have actually accomplished something in their lives, who can understand complex problems and who have the political courage to see that real, productive work is done.

  11. R2D2II

    Thanks. I remember reading the article but couldn’t remember where.

    My point remains that our policymakers know virtually nothing about policing priorities and OPD organizational and operational matters. With an ignorant and disconnected City Council and Mayor, how can we expect a rational, ethical, science-based, policing policy.

    In the cited article, Captain Figueroa gives credit to Chief Whent for working to bring OPD up-to-date on effective policing to reduce violence. Keep in mind that the Mayor and Council are busily spending money to find someone to replace Chief Whent.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.