Friday, August 30, 2013

How do you report police abuse?

Who do you have to talk to if you need to complain about something an Oakland cop did to you?

Another cop, that is who. 

Complaints against police officers are taken in the Internal Affairs section of the Oakland Police Department.  Say for example you were hit by a police officer?  How would you feel about being in a police department office filing your complaint?  Will it even matter if the person across the desk has a uniform or not? 

The person filing the complaint shares a need with the public to have the complaints intake be safe, objective, credible and we do not get that sending these complaints to Internal Affairs. 

Police misconduct is not an "internal" affair. 
It is a public problem and a serious one. 
It is a 58 million Dollar over 10 years in settlements problem.
That is more Dollars than San Jose and San Francisco COMBINED.   

This intake problem was fixed by our council.  In the last two budgets a council decision was made to move the complaints intake process away from Internal Affairs and make it a public affair inside the Citizens' Police Review Board the CPRB. 

Except the administration does not do it. 

During the whole first 2010-2012 budget no action was taken.  This was on the budget, but somehow we could not identify the funds or figure it out in two years.  Lots of consultations took place that we know little about but the fact remains that they did nothing.  It says on their website that you can file a complaint at the CPRB, but you cant really. 

Council did not particularly enjoy that.  The provision is in the 2013-2014 budget and council told the administration to report back.

City Administrator Deena Santana did not report back.  Instead she posted a job offer for complaint intake officers to do the complaints against police job working for INTERNAL AFFAIRS. Or exactly what we are supposed to be moving away from.

So that is how our government works?  Our council decides something and puts money down to do it and then the City Administrator just does as she pleases?

Please take a moment today to let your member of Council know if think they should stop this from happening.  The Citizens' Police Review Board is exactly where civilians, otherwise known as the public, SHOULD be listening to complaints from the public against police officers.

Reading over the job description and requirements that Administrator Santana's office posted one finds another problem. 

Who do they want?  Spanish, Cantonese or Vietnamese?  Not mentioned.  Civil Rights background?  Also not mentioned.  Legal aide?  Those words were not used.  Counseling and public outreach experience?  Only in the context of public administration dealing with the public.  They do require a BA, for no justifiable reason, and make it very clear that being a former police officer is a big plus while they make knowing the Police Officer's Bill of Rights mandatory. 

To me that sounds like they want the wrong person at the wrong place. 

So, who do they want?  And who do they not want?  Social worker from our community?  Probably not qualified.  Mono lingual ex-cop bureaucrat?  Seems they are welcome to apply. 

Those of us who have worked to get the intake process for complaints against police officers moved to the Citizens' Police Review Board away from Internal Affairs of the Oakland Police Department are not surprised.  The resistance to this move towards fairness and objectivity has been strong but not public. 

So why?  Why do they want to hold onto the intake process?  Do they want to keep the information where they can control it?  Do they want to put people with claims in a situation where they cannot move their claims forward?  Despite the giant payout bill Oakland has due to police abuse settlements, the current system seems to find almost all the complaints "unfounded".  By the way, that finding of "unfounded" keeps a cops record squeaky clean and their pay flowing. 

 How old is this problem?  This round is now 3 years into the foot dragging after going through the whole advocacy process to get complaint intake moved.  But the problem is much older. Not 07, not '97 or even '87 but all the way back to the 60's and 70's leading up the first inception of citizens' police oversight in 1977.  Many of the cities around us in the Bay Area have Police Commissions and yet we in Oakland still have a toothless oversight board. 

For more information and to get involved contact the offices of People United for a Better Life in Oakland.  Many others have been in the movement to make this intake procedure change too.  Full disclosure?  I am on the board and was one of the people going to my council member's office to advocate for this civilian complaint intake process. 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What is happening with the Oakland ID card?

Oakland has an ID card.  I went to the downtown office, did the procedure to get one for myself and my son. 

Mine came in the mail a few weeks later.
Not a great photo, but... No problem. 

My son's never came. 
Finally a letter came and I now have two copies of my Oakland City ID. 

When I called the office to ask after my son's card, the young man answering the phone did not have the English level needed to publically represent a government office.  After a short, frustrating attempt, I switched to Spanish. 

I was told that the company making the cards had still not made any cards for minors.  They took my number and said that they would get right back to me with some kind of ETA for youth cards.

That was over a month ago.  The original application was over 4 months ago. 

While applying for our cards, I met the director a second time.  She had visited my son's school for an ID card orientation where she was one of the hosts that could not speak Spanish.  In her office I let her know that I had been at an orientation and was a member of the local Green Party who are supporters of the City ID.   

She knew of some of that and she suggested to me that the Oakland Greens come as a group to apply for their cards, do something of a photo op to show our support.  I took this good idea to our local Green Party club meeting and we all said yes. 

I have been trying to get the director to call me back for three months now just to tell her yes to her own proposal. 

The Green Party, along with others following the lead of former Council Member Wilson Riles have been supporters of the City ID and the adjoined ATM features from inception. 

Wilson came to several Green meetings carrying local currencies from other places in the US and telling us about it.

He was advocating two things:

1) The launch of a local city currency to help deal with the current super recession.  This is being done around the country in different forms as a way to add trade value to the local economy.

2) A low cost municipal ID card to fill the gap among those who do not have easy access to another form of government issued, photo ID. 

Personally I am convinced that the local currency is a good idea if you have the government support for it, which in Oakland we do not yet.  In both 2010 and 2012 I and my fellow Greens Anderson and Menjivar, ran for local offices supporting the idea of a local currency.  Of course our local press would rather talk about a dozen self-styled anarchists throwing rocks than report on, or dialog with, thousands of Oakland voters with practical proposals and if you followed local Oakland politics these last four years, you can be excused for not having heard about this.  What are three candidates, thousands of voters, an established civic leader etc when compared to a police force that would rather talk about a tiny fringe breaking windows or burning trash cans.  What they were trying to avoid talking about was not the local currency, it was the general problems of police misconduct and the mishandling of several public protests, notably a picket at the port where they fired non-lethal munitions and the totally aggressive and abusive way they dealt with the Oscar Grant protests and Occupy. 

We who advocate well considered domestic proposals, such as a local currency, have trouble brining our ideas into the spotlight.  Here is a link to what is going on in the USA right now:  

The ID card is also a great idea.  Not only does it provide ID, it also provides proof of residency.  There are many who need a more accessible ID.  Of course the attention is immediately drawn to the undocumented immigrants.  That is one good use.  The others include seniors, parolees (who really need something), minors and non-drivers who could use a good local ID to do things like enter security zones, cash checks, prove local residency for schools and libraries, and all the other little things we take for granted when we have that California Driver's License. In my case I want some solid ID for my son and a second photo ID document that I can use to register my domestic partnership. 

Wilson Riles is also active in bridging the understanding divide between African American activists the immigrant communities.  He saw this kind of card as serving many communities and bringing them together.  My take on it, is that it is great to have a local ID card, get our city out of the anti-immigrant ugliness around the country and provide ID for all that need it, not just an I-am-an-illegal-alien card as some other city ID's have become. 

After much avocation, Oakland City Council approved a photo ID/ATM card that leaves the path open to an electronic local currency in the future if we ever get the support for this idea.  Since many of those who do not have ID's also do not have bank accounts, this card can also work as a standard ATM cash card.  It seemed we are on the right track. 

Except for some details. 

The ATM fees that the provider originally charged were outlandish.  They were lowered somewhat, but are still too high.  Seems to be the same type of opportunistic exploitation of the poor provided by the check cashing places that the local ID card is supposed to help protect against.  Poor people do not need ATM fees that are abusively high. 

The mistakes are many.  I applied for my card after others and got mine before they did.  There is still no sign of the minor's cards. One guy I knew, African American, got a nice card with somebody else's photo on it. Other reports of slow delivery and mistakes are many. Will this card grow a reputation for mistakes?  One would hope that someday the Oakland ID card would get our residents onto a plane or into a bank account, but it needs to hold up to the scrutiny of other agencies. 

And the Greens have still not heard back about the photo Op and we are not sure we want to anymore.  At the last meeting where we talked about it one fellow Green put it simply.  "If it is being run this poorly, do we want to be associated with it?" 

That is a question all of Oakland City Government should ask itself about this card to make sure that this good idea is not so poorly done that it gives us all a bad name.