PUEBLO Director Praises Oakland Police Chief By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Friday February 17, 2006

A veteran Oakland progressive community police activist says that the combination of federal judicial oversight, the upcoming expiration of Oakland’s agreement with the police union, and a cooperative new police chief has the chance to result in significant positive reforms this year in the Oakland Police Department. 

“Chief [Wayne] Tucker knows he needs the community’s help to overcome some of the obstacles he’s facing,” said Rashidah Grinage, acting director of PUEBLO (People United For A Better Oakland), in an interview. “We’ve been meeting regularly with him since he was appointed. He’s working with us.”  

Tucker, a veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, was hired by Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown on an interim basis last February to replace outgoing Oakland Police Chief Richard Word. Brown appointed Tucker as permanent police chief last summer. 

One of the first results of that PUEBLO-OPD chief cooperation was the release this week of a PUEBLO-initiated, city-commissioned survey showing that one-third of Oakland citizens had a negative impression of their most recent contact with Oakland police officers, and that only one in ten citizens expressing such a negative police experience later filed a complaint with the Citizens’ Police Review Board or the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division. 

Tucker told members of the Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee this week that the survey showed that “underreporting of complaints against the police is a serious problem. It’s very troubling that people don’t have faith in the department’s reporting and complaint process.” 

Tucker said the survey also indicated that “police services are delivered differently” to different constituencies in Oakland. 

“We have a culture in the police department that needs to be changed.” Noting that the survey showed that two-thirds of Oakland citizens were satisfied with the conduct of the police they encountered, Tucker said, “this is not where we want to be. That figure should be 80 to 85 percent.” 

Tucker also called on the City Council to establish the citizen survey as an annual procedure. 

The Public Safety Committee referred the survey results to the full City Council for consideration.  

In a prepared statement, PUEBLO’s Grinage said, “while we commend the city for undertaking this survey, and believe some of the results to be encouraging signs of progress, we are deeply alarmed at the under-reporting of possible police abuse or misconduct.” 

The Oakland Police Department is currently under the scrutiny of U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson because of noncompliance with the settlement agreement terms of the Allen v. Oakland police misconduct lawsuit (commonly called the “Riders” lawsuit). 

Under the agreement, the Oakland Police Department must meet a series of court-mandated conduct reform goals while being monitored by a court-appointed independent monitoring team. 

In addition, the city is currently in negotiations with the powerful Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) labor union over the city-union Memorandum of Understanding labor contract agreement. The current MOU expires this June. 

“Judge Henderson has been very critical of the union” during the procedures when the monitoring team report reports back to him on the police department’s progress in meeting the settlement agreement goals, Grinage said in an interview. “He seems very concerned that the existing Memorandum of Understanding allows the union to hold up compliance. That gives Chief Tucker a lot of leverage in negotiating with the police union for the new MOU. He’s the first Oakland Police Chief to have that.” 

Grinage said PUEBLO reached tentative agreement with the City of Oakland to commission the police complaint survey, but added that it was “held up for many months” within the police-city bureau-cracy.  

“We’re crediting Chief Tucker with pushing it through to get it done,” Grinage said. 

In the September 2005 telephone interview survey conducted by McGuire Research Services, 1,000 Oakland residents were surveyed about their contact with an Oakland police officer over the past five years. The survey was jointly designed by City of Oakland staffers and experts retained by PUEBLO. The results were then analyzed by the Oakland offices of the Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates research firm, which presented its findings to the City Council Public Safety Committee this week. 

The survey showed the expected: African-Americans and lower income citizens were more likely to claim negative experiences with the police department than whites or upper income citizens. Of those participating in the survey, 39 percent of African-Americans reported a negative police experience, while the negative percentage was 32 percent for Latinos, 30 percent for Asian-Americans, and 21 percent for whites. Of citizens making under $20,000 a year, 39 percent reported a negative experience, while 26 percent of citizens making more than $60,000 a year reported a negative police experience. 

There was little percentage difference in the ethnicity of the police officer being complained about. 

The analysis showed that of the 11 percent of dissatisfied citizens who actually filed a complaint with the city or the police department, almost 50 percent said that the officer involved was “harassing, rude, or insensitive,” while 17 percent claimed the officer was “physically abusive” and 8 percent believed they were “racially profiled.” 

“’Rude and discourteous’ jumps out of the page at you,” Tucker told Public Safety Committee members. “That should never be.” 

“Fully 84 percent of Oakland residents who have had negative experiences with the police don’t report it because they didn’t believe it would make a difference, didn’t trust the process, or felt it wasn’t worth the time or effort,” said PUEBLO’s Grinage in a statement. “This suggests a level of disconnect between the Police Department and the public it is meant to serve that must be addressed.” 

Grinage added that “positive and negative experiences are directly correlated to race and economic status: white middle-upper class people had favorable experiences while people of color of lower economic status tended to have negative experiences. This suggests strongly that there are two styles of policing in Oakland—one for the affluent and one for the rest of the residents. This is unacceptable.” 

PUEBLO is planning to release its own analysis of the police complaint survey later this year. In addition, the organization has planned a community speak-out for Saturday, March 4, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Frick Middle School in Oakland to discuss community complaints about the Oakland Police Department..