By Steven Tavares.
In the wake of a sweeping police misconduct and sex scandal, a ballot measure that would create an independent citizen police oversight commission is headed to the Oakland City Council for discussion in early July. If approved the measure would be placed on the November general election ballot.
The Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee moved the potential ballot measure to the full council Tuesday evening despite strong opposition from the Oakland Police Officers Association and other several other labor unions.
The measure’s future appeared in doubt after some councilmembers appeared to be stymieing its path last month toward approval in time for the November ballot. However, news reports detailing widespread police misconduct with a 17-year-old sex worker in Oakland and coverup, which apparently led to the firing of Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent, has changed the political will within the City Council.
Opposition to the measure by councilmembers, including Abel Guillen and Anne Campbell Washington was withdrawn after the damning East Bay Express report last Friday. Guillen and Campbell Washington on Tuesday attempted a long list of amendments to the proposed ballot measure language offered by Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo, including reinstatement of non-binding arbitration for police officers. Kalb did not accept the specific amendment despite pushback from union leaders.
“The proposal eliminates due process rights available for generations,” said Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association. “It’s completely uncalled for.” Donelan and a representative from the Teamsters added some councilmembers had reneged on promises to the union to maintain non-binding arbitration protections, “You don’t have to weaken union to have strong police oversight,” said Zac Unger, president of the Oakland Firefighters’ union.
Public opinion, however, has significantly shifted towards greater police oversight in just the past five days as the police sex scandal has ballooned to include as nearly two dozen officers within numerous local law enforcement jurisdictions. “Overwhelmingly the huge majority of police are good people doing a difficult job,” said Kalb. “We also know all too well in recent days, misconduct happens. It needs to be dealt with high standards.”
A growing number of Oakland residents had been clamoring for the right to vote on the proposed oversight measure in the fall. Gallo said he was heartened by the fact the proposed measure is being driven by citizens. “At the end of the day it is their call,” he said, and labeled the measure as “not anti-police, not anti-union. It’s about making progress in the city.”
Councilmember Desley Brooks was harsher in her criticism, even alleging Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf knew early on about the alleged misconduct. “The administration is unable to look out for the residents of this city,” Brooks added. She also suggested hearing rumors about police misconduct and rebuffed when asking questions about it, but also said much of what is now know about about the scandal has only been furnished by news reports. “We are learning about stuff in the media just like the rest of us.”