Thursday, June 27, 2013

Oakland law enforcement that answers the question, or not

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. 




Tuesday, June 18, 2013

East Bay Hills forestation plan comments

This is what I wrote to the program at

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is Don Macleay.  I live in Oakland. 

I work as a computer consultant now, but at an earlier time I directed a reforestation program to protect a watershed for a small scale hydro electric project.  My role was not forestry; it was management.  Supervising the construction, soil stabilization reforestation and general water retention and run-off control reforestation mixed with residential and agricultural lands allowed me a to see the whole process and work with many experts in the different fields.  These considerations come from someone who once ran such a project as you now propose. 

Looking over the project I have some quick thoughts. 
I did not have time to study the project in detail, so some of the issues may have been better discussed than I saw. 

First, I like the basic idea. 
Some of my friends were burned out in the Oakland Fire and I have been aware of the role of invasive species in the fire ecology area in our current fire danger ever since.  My gut feeling is that this project is on the right track.  I hope that it will be done gradually in small patches never leaving any large area deforested for any long period of time.  That way the soils will stay stable.  The overall condition of the hills is badly deforested so I think we need the stability and water retention that the current non-native trees provide as we gradually replace them with native fire-ecology species.  It would also be a good idea to start by expanding native forest into the open grass lands and other denuded areas first as a way to increase the over all coverage before starting to remove healthy non-native trees. 

I wonder about the fire ecology aspect and if we have addressed it in full. 
I am not sure how we get back to the light burns that are natural to our foothills. 
There is a lot of fuel built up, especially in these non-native trees, so fuel removal comes before controlled burns. 
It seems to me that the long range plans should include scheduled controlled burns at the right times for natural re-seeding.

What I saw of the plan talks much about trees, not so much about the other plants. 
What about the normal association of shrubs, other plants and fauna that make up this fire ecology biome?
Are there plans to repopulate those species too? 
They have also been impacted by agriculture, invasive species and other land use practices.
If we want self sustaining wildlands with stable soils, we will need all of the original ecology. 

My only negative comment is on the herbicides. 
If we were talking about a tree farm, there would be much less concern.
But if we are trying to reforest restoring the original species then herbicide is problematic. 
There are too many plant and animal species involved in wildland soils for the herbicides not to cause secondary effects.
The complementary plant life to the trees would be seriously impacted by the effects of stump spaying. 

It seems like there will be some modification to the plan after the public reaction seen so far. 
In that process I would suggest just pulling the stumps in coordination with the controlled burns.
The non-native, non-fire ecology plants will be pushed out naturally, with a bit more work and some more time. 


Don Macleay

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A small step in the right direction for disadvantaged schools.


Today in our new California budget a long needed change has been brought into our school funding formula.  When running for office one of the ways you can lose the media’s attention is to discuss school funding formulas but it is the way-it-works when it comes to money for our Oakland Schools. 

Of course if you are not a member of either of the two official political advertising conglomerates, your message, not to mention your name, does not get into the official media at all. 

Our schools and schools like our schools suffer because of a thing called the “daily attendance formula” where our schools are allocated funds based on how many students actually attended each and every day of school.  In Oakland our high truancy rate does not merit extra funds to deal with it.  Instead our funding allotment is cut for each day a kid cuts school. 

What the new budget has added is extra funds for schools with extra needs.  The main focus in the press is the 55% low income and high percentage of English learning students’ needs that are cause for extra funding. 

This is great and long overdue. Of course the amount of money in the offering is still to little to undo the damage of the years of cutbacks (American English for “austerity measures”).  Of course the priorities of the state still spend way too much on the corrections industry with its failed parole system and its prisons devoid of any serious rehabilitations programs.  And of course our state does not raise taxes on the wealthy who had their federal taxes slashed so much that all of our states have lost big chunks of federal funding and are fighting over the scraps.  That and much more can be said and is being said by Laura Wells and other activists inside and outside the Green Party. 

But this much we can say:  finally there is at least some law that funds our schools based on NEED.  This should continue!  The attendance based funding should be switched to enrollment based funding putting an end to the expensive daily reporting obsession that is required by law.  Some more serious funding should be sent to all the school districts that have high truancy and high dropout rates. For districts like ours that do not graduate a high percentage of our 18 year olds every year, there should be more resources than a DA’s office with a high conviction rate.

Oakland probably graduates less than half of those who would be of the right age to be graduating from High School and you can rest assured that the youth most affected is of color. 

It is sad that the neglect of our public schools had to reach this kind of deep crisis before the state decided to act.   I attend a lot of political meetings and hear a lot of what our school board, city council and local members of state assembly have to say.  I never hear much about funding formulas, if anything and maybe that is why this has taken so long to get this little bit of progress.