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    Oakland Police Commission and Why It Needs Your Vote in November

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    In November 2016, in the wake of abuse scandals, cover-ups, and poor management from a quick line of chiefs, 83.19% of Oakland voters decided that the time had come to have an independent, civilian police oversight commission. The City of Oakland has been in the grips of a federal court supervised Negotiated Settlement Agreement (“NSA”) since 2003, following the Riders case, due to the culture and actions of OPD that were not in keeping with constitutional policing, nor did the culture and practices of OPD reflect the ideals and values of the City of Oakland. The Oakland Police Commission was designed to address the tasks set out in the NSA, as well as other challenges to constitutional policing, and to provide independent oversight for misconduct issues, to help build accountability and trust.

    Some in the administration, however, worked to undermine this independence. The previous city administrator, who had previously served as police chief, refused to allow the Police Commission to hire an independent inspector general, and demanded that the inspector general report within the same chain of command as the police department—undermining the ability to provide independence. 

    Despite these challenges, the Police Commission worked on the assignments that they were given. Notably, during the investigation of the killing of Joshua Pawlik, the Police Commission, in keeping with its mandate, was called upon to create a discipline committee to review the botched investigation into the killing of Pawlik. The commission’s Discipline Committee was one of the few points in the investigation that functioned appropriately and objectively. In a recent official report, the compliance monitor working with the federal court shared vital information about the misconduct of the former police chief and administrative leaders, in covering up the conduct behind that police killing, and spreading false information in the press. 

    The federal monitor report stated: “Chief Kirkpatrick prematurely assessed the shooting on the evening of its occurrence, when she told the Monitor that Mr. Pawlik had ‘pointed’ a firearm at the officers, and that the shooting ‘looks good.’ Her expressed predispositions of that evening never wavered, even as the investigations moved forward. The Department attempted to provide a justification for the shooting through its initial press releases describing the incident.”

    That same report also stated: “The Oakland Police Commission is an important voice for police reform at a time when it is clearer than ever that a police department cannot function without the support of, and oversight by, the community it is presumed to serve.”

    After months of negotiation and stakeholder input, we have worked together to place a measure on the November ballot, to ensure the ability to have an independent inspector general (and independent, unbiased legal counsel) so that the personnel working to oversee policing issues will be independent of the police department chain of command. 

    In the wake of the OPD use of tear gas and other dangerous projectiles against peaceful demonstrators, there was a surge in complaints as well. It will be the Oakland Police Commission who will review the use of teargas and violations of the OPD crowd control policy. As the City of Oakland begins the process of reimagining public safety, there needs to be a body overseeing what is happening—looking out for our civil rights and constitutional protections.

    The full document of the latest monitor report, along with earlier such reports, is at:

    Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( ) and Facebook ( ).

    Published on September 10, 2020