The Oakland City Council chambers were packed to capacity on Tuesday. Photo by Josh Cain.
Update, 6:30 p.m.: For Noel Gallo, one of the Oakland City Council's newest members, it was a raucous first meeting as chair of the public safety committee.
Ostensibly scheduled to discuss the impending contract of police-chief-for-hire Bill Bratton, protesters interrupted the meeting with shouts and insults, and turned it into a referendum on the Oakland Police Department, Chief Howard Jordan, Gallo and Bratton himself.
The meeting agenda did not mention the "stop and frisk" policies that Bratton had championed while he served as police chief of New York, Boston and Los Angeles.
It did feature two other contracts: one with a security services provider and another with a company creating a web platform for OPD. Both were voted on within minutes. Bratton's contract, however, took the council five hours to debate and finally vote forward to a council vote next week.
Neither Gallo nor Bratton were helped by their recent comments supporting tough measures against crime. On Jan. 7, in a speech soon after he was sworn in as a councilmember, Gallo said he supported "stop and frisk" as well as instituting a youth curfew.
For his part, in a recent interview with CBS 5, Bratton said he would support the use of stop and frisk in Oakland despite many activists in the city seeing the policy as a non-starter.
“For any city to say they don’t do ‘stop-and-frisk’…I’m sorry, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Every police department in America does it," Bratton said.
"The challenge is to do it constitutionally within the law. The challenge is to do it compassionately; you’re dealing with human beings. And the challenge is to do it consistently so you cannot be accused that you’re only doing it in one neighborhood in the city or directed against one population of the city.”
Many of the attendees in the audience took issue with those comments, as well as with the OPD in general.
"When I heard that this council was considering hiring Bill Bratton, I took this as a practical joke," said Dave Firestein, who wore a "Justice for Alan Blueford" shirt. "How can a city that has just been ordered to stop its policy of racial profiling propose to bring in a consultant who proposes to do just that?"
Others, however, supported the council's effort to bolster the police force.
"It is a shame for this city to have a police staff below 600. It's a shame," said Jim Dexter, one of only a few who spoke about their support for Bratton's hire.
Despite the uproar, the committee voted unanimously to recommend the contract proposal to a city council vote at it's next meeting, Jan. 22 at 5:30 p.m.
With vocal support from an audience of business leaders and community group members, the Oakland City Council's special finance and management committee adopted a resolution Tuesday to hire 21 new civilian staffers to the Oakland Police Department.
Also adopted were resolutions to immediately hire the Alameda County Sheriffs Department to contribute 10 deputies to Oakland's streets for the next 90 days and to provide funding for this year's crop of police academy recruits who would start training in September.
The three councilmembers present for the meeting were adamant that more still needed to be done to bolster OPD's civilian staff and officers in the face of a spree of murders this year.
"We are currently exhausting our overtime of our own officers," Councilmember Libby Schaaf said of the 612 officers now on the police force. "Currently our officers are on mandatory overtime and they are being offered more overtime shifts than they are even capable of filling."
The number of OPD officers is down from the 800 that were on the force in 2009.
Responding to concerns that the hiring of Alameda County sheriffs deputies would not be enough to fight crime in Oakland, Schaaf said that this resolution was clearly a temporary measure and that more police hires would be on the council's table in the future.
"This is in the context of additional commitment to hire as many officers as quickly as we are capable of hiring them," Schaaf said. "It is important that people see this temporary payment of outside resources with another commitment to maximize our investment in our own department."
The committee was also unanimous in its desire to open more police academies as soon as possible.
"This is just the beginning," Council President Patricia Kernighan said. "If we only do two academies a year, we are going to be growing the police department by 20, maybe 25 [officers] a year."
Representatives from Make Oakland Better Now said in the meeting, given a current attrition rate of four officers a month from OPD due to disability and other reasons, that it would take until 2023 to reach the 800 officers that the council wants.
Chief Howard Jordan stressed to the council that he needed as many resources as possible to effectively fight crime in the city. He referenced statistics that said on average OPD officers had just one minute of free time per hour; according to Johnson, the national average for officer free time per hour is 30 minutes.
"This is a cry for help that I made last year," Jordan said in reference to the hiring of Alameda County deputies. "It is not unusual for us to work with Alameda County…They are not here to take over the department."
Tuesday's meeting was held just four days after three men and a teenage boy were murdered in another spasm of gang violence.
"Oakland has just had a horrific week," Schaaf said.
Check back with Oakland Local later today for updates from the city council's public safety committee meeting, where the members will discuss the hiring of Bill Bratton as a consultant. (ED: UPDATE: This meeting as announced as cancelled for Jan. 15, 2013).