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Oakland City Council to Debate Controversial Police Consultant Contract

Oakland Local

William Bratton's potential hire by the Oakland City Council has raised questions about his record enforcing policies like "stop and frisk" in other cities.

Both opponents and supporters of controversial police-chief-for-hire William Bratton are gearing up for a fight Tuesday as the Oakland City Council considers a $250,000 consulting contract for Bratton and his allies at Strategic Policy Partnerships LLC.

The consulting group is potentially being brought in to help the OPD fight the city's violent crime wave and reform an understaffed police force. Oakland Police Department Chief Howard Jordan recommended SPP to the Council after working with its chair, Bob Wasserman, in 2012.

Wasserman's addition of Bratton to his potential consulting team drew the attention of groups fearing the controversial tactics that Bratton has supported in the past, like stop and frisk, which has long been credited with bringing lowered crime rates and reformed police departments to the cities of Los Angeles, New York and Boston. Wasserman was a key advisor to Bratton during his tenure as L.A.'s police chief.

Jordan and Wasserman both heard the opposition to their plan loud and clear on Jan. 15. More than 80 speakers lined up to speak before the City Council's public safety committee as they first considered the contract. Protestors crowded Council chambers, shouting at the Councilmembers and demanding they consider other options for crime reduction in the city. But after several hours, the uproar died down and most of the audience left, leaving Wasserman with free reign to make his case to the Council that Oakland should welcome the hiring of his consulting group to help analyze what has gone so wrong with OPD.

He told the Council that devising community policing strategies would be SPP's priority. "We need to develop a plan by listening to people in the community," Wasserman said in a mostly silent Council chambers. "Oakland is not like other cities. Oakland is special. Oakland has unique problems, and so we have to do something with the community … [this can work] by having extensive collaboration over the next months, having town hall forums where people can speak about solutions, not just what the problems are."

Wasserman also laid out some of the most dramatic changes he would seek to make in OPD's structure."It needs to become decentralized, with a neighborhood base, with accountable managers in every section of the city who can be held to account for the quality of police servicing that is going on," Wasserman said.

Given the uproar that Bratton caused, however, Councilmembers Lynette Gibson-McElhaney and Dan Kalb questioned whether his inclusion in the contract would be appropriate.“I wonder if his reputation is not so toxic that he cannot perform?” Gibson-McElhaney asked.

Kalb, a freshman Councilmember, like Gibson-McElhaney, even posed that the committee vote the contract forward without a recommendation, a move that caused confusion for the rest of the committee, but also made his suspicion of the contract clear.

Gibson-McElhaney and Kalb's opposition to the contract with Bratton included forced the committee to vote forward the contract only after a guarantee from Wasserman that he would reconsider having the former police chief on his team.

Despite the fact that Bratton might not even be included in the final contract, suspicions of a policing strategy that resembles anything that Bratton has implemented in the past still run high. In a call to action on Occupy Oakland's blog, one writer questioned the honesty of Wasserman's speech to the committee while simultaneously calling for its supporters to crowd the Council chambers just like they did on Jan. 15.

"Wasserman also kept repeating the importance of community involvement and bringing the community together (and even seemed to take credit for the hundreds who came out to protest the Bratton contract), but neither in his time consulting with the OPD nor when he and the city announced a month ago that the Bratton hiring was a done deal (it wasn’t) did he ever bring the community in," Occupy Oakland wrote. "How are we as a community supposed to believe what Wasserman says when he’s been so clearly dishonest this far?"

>But supporters of the contract see Wasserman's intended reforms for OPD as the only way to help a city struggling with violent crime.

Make Oakland Better Now - a group that supports increased policing efforts in the city - wrote on its blog that Oakland citizens must demand accountability from Jordan and Wasserman.

"Oaklanders will have to be tenacious in demanding that the Wasserman/Bratton recommendations are fully implemented," MOBN wrote. "The probability that some elements in the City may want to ignore those recommendations is no reason to avoid getting us the help we need. It will be the job of the public to force City government to move them forward."

MOBN also contends that "stop and frisk" is mentioned nowhere in Wasserman's proposals to the city."There is nothing whatsoever in the proposal to suggest that “stop and frisk” has anything to do with what Wasserman and Bratton are planning to recommend," MOBN wrote. "Oakland is operating under … a [U.S. District Court mandated] compliance director, so there is going to be plenty of machinery in place to prevent Oakland from turning further away from Constitutional policing."

Despite the heated talk about the Bratton contract, the Council also willsee three other proposals for bolstering OPD at today's meeting.

At last week's special finance and management committee meeting where Councilwomen Pat Kernighan, Rebecca Kaplan and Libby Schaaf approved all of the measures intended to bolster the city's police department, which included $2,343,498 for the hiring of 21 police technicians and up to $530,000 for immediate assistance from the Alameda County Sheriffs Department, there was not a single voice of opposition.

Rather, groups like the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Make Oakland Better Now and representatives of the civilian workers employed at OPD supported all three measures with enthusiasm.

The debate continues today at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Source: Oakland Local []

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