In an effort to bring public awareness to the issues involved in critical contract talks between the City of Oakland and the powerful Oakland Police Officers Association, members of the Black Elected Officials of the East Bay sponsored a public forum Wednesday night on the contract negotiations.
Representatives of the city showed up. Representatives of the Police Officers Association did not.
In their absence, a packed City Council chambers heard presentations from Oakland Chief Wayne Tucker and federal court monitors about the state of Oakland’s police department, as well as statements and questions about police and crime conditions in the city from audience members. City Administrator Deborah Edgerly also answered audience questions.
The current City of Oakland/OPOA contract expired in June.
The OPOA could not be reached for comment for this article.
“It is imperative that we change the existing police contract,” Councilmember Desley Brooks said following the meeting. “The contract has a direct impact on the services that the police department can give to residents. If we don’t change both the management structure of the department and the way in which our officers are deployed, we are always going to be behind the ball.” Brooks, a member of the Black Elected Officials group, was one of the major organizers of Wednesday night’s meeting.
Waving a copy of Chief Tucker’s March, 2006 “Vision And Plan Of Action To Reduce Crime And Improve Accountability,” Alameda County Board of Supervisors Keith Carson, the chair of the Black Elected Officials organization, said “We’re in a pivotal time in Oakland’s history. If we think that the current setup with the police department is all right, then it’s our duty to let the City Council know this. As for me, I embrace the chief’s plan for changing the department. And from what I’ve heard him say during the mayoral campaign, our mayor-elect (Ron Dellums) supports it, too. Others who feel the same way should let their Oakland elected officials know that they want the chief’s plan to be a model for the way the department operates.”
One of the major components of Tucker’s plan is a change in the redeployment of the Oakland Police Department. Under the current deployment plan, Oakland police operate in four- day, 10-hour shifts, a deployment the chief called “one of the least efficient,” and under which, Tucker said, “we are spending millions of dollars on overtime as a standard practice, more than is healthy. We’re managing the department on an overtime basis, but you can’t run a police department on overtime. It doesn’t make good fiscal sense. It doesn’t make good administrative sense. And it isn’t good for the citizens we are serving.”
Tucker said that 265 officers are needed to run the current 10 hour shifts, while only 200 would be needed if the shifts were set at 8 hours, and 178 if the shifts were set at 12 hours. With longer shifts, he said, a smaller number of officers is needed to be on duty each shift to patrol the city, even though the actual number of officers on patrol remains the same.
Tucker said OPD regularly schedules 180 overtime shifts every three weeks, which “we would all but eliminate if we took more efficient deployment.” The savings in overtime that would come from adopting a 12 hour deployment plan, he said, could be used either to enhance police operations or be returned to the city’s general fund.
Following the meeting, Brooks said that almost every other police department in Alameda County operates under the 12 hour shift. “The OPOA says that we can’t do it here,” she said. “If so, why are they able to do it in other cities?”
Tucker also complained that a clause in the current contract that allows the OPOA to call for immediate dispute resolution a maximum of five times a year, suspending any policy the OPOA doesn’t like, “essentially paralyzes me from making an unpopular decision.” The chief said that clause, and another which automatically includes in the contract terms any “past district practices that have been beneficial to union members,” has “tied us to a management practice that does not allow us flexibility.” He says that because of the restraints in the current union contract, “we are restricted to mostly patrol services and responses to 9-1-1 calls. We’re not doing timely follow up investigations. We’re not working on youth and family services. We’re not doing a good job in following up on property crimes.”
The chief said because of the confidentiality clause of the negotiations, he could not speak directly about what issues were dividing the union and the city.
One of the most dramatic moments of the meeting came in an exchange between Tucker and Minister Keith Muhammad of the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque 26 in Oakland.
Praising Tucker for his actions since becoming chief of Oakland’s police department 20 months ago, Muhammad said that there was still a crisis of violence in the city. “Some of us may feel that martial law is the solution,” he said, referring to an earlier speaker who suggested the National Guard be brought in to deal with Oakland’s violent crime wave. “But that was not the solution to the problem in Iraq, putting more guns on the street. It won’t work in Oakland, where there is an atmosphere of fearlessness against the police among some people in our city.”
Staring directly across at Muhammad from the Council podium, Tucker admitted that there were problems in the police department, but said that “the department is changing. I know we still have a lot of warts and carbuncles that inflame the community. But we’re going to get there.” Tucker said that the Oakland Police Department “has lost the capacity to connect to young people. That’s a huge hole in the department we have to fix. We don’t know the community very well. That only happens when you’re out in the community and learning the community, and when you’re reflective of the people in the community. That’s what we have to do.”
Other presentations at the meeting were made by Kelli Evans and Charles Gruber, members of the federal court-appointed monitoring team overseeing the negotiated settlement in the landmark Allen v. Oakland police misconduct case.
Gruber said that “cultural changes” were needed in the way Oakland police do business, saying that such cultural changes meant “the department has to have all of its policies updated consistent with modern police practices and upholding constitutional rights. Many of the members of the police department have embraced these cultural changes. Those who have not will be dealt with over time.”
Gruber praised OPD’s reforms instituted in the 20 months since Tucker became chief. “We’ve seen remarkable progress in those 20 months,” he said, adding that “there’s still more to do, however.”
Evans, an Oakland resident, said that the reforms being initiated by the settlement agreement will lead to an improved law enforcement climate in the city. “The most effective policing has to be constitutional policing,” she said. “These reforms will improve the crime-fighting ability of the Oakland Police Department.”