OPD officers are "confused" by the city's "mixed messages," OPOA claims
As Occupy Oakland gears up for Wednesday’s planned general strike, many questions remain regarding public safety. Even the police have questions, according to an open letter to the citizens of Oakland issued Tuesday morning by the Oakland Police Officers’ Association.
“As your police officers, we are confused,” it read.
First, officers were asked to clear the encampment of Occupiers: “We performed the job that the Mayor’s Administration asked us to do, being fully aware that past protests in Oakland have resulted in rioting, violence and destruction of property. “ But the next day, “the Mayor allowed protesters back in – to camp out at the very place they were evacuated from the day before.”
However, the OPOA memo doesn’t make any specific reference to the Scott Olsen incident—in which the Iraqi war vet was critically-injured—nor does it specifically refer to the tear-gassing of protestors in several incidents after the camp was cleared. It also doesn’t cite the political fallout which ensued when videos of the night went viral, became fodder for national talk-show hosts, and led to a recall petition against Mayor Quan.
“To add to the confusion,” the OPOA letter says, “the Administration issued a memo on Friday, October 28th to all City workers in support of the ‘Stop Work’ strike scheduled for Wednesday, giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off …Is it the City’s intention to have City employees on both sides of a skirmish line?”
That’s a fair question, but far from the only one in a situation which is spinning, and being spun, from many different sides at the same time.
Organizers have promised a safe demonstration, yet whether police will allow them to march to the Port of Oakland and “shut it down,” as rapper Boots Riley indicated Monday, remains to be seen.
In the wake of last Tuesday’s clashes between police and protestors, which resulted in Olsen’s injury as well as hundreds of people being tear-gassed and/or hit with bean-bag pellets, and reports of rubber bullets fired, the possibility that things could, once again, get out of hand isn’t entirely unlikely.
In a bulletin to businesses and merchants sent on Monday, the City stated that OPD “is prepared to respond in the event that the demonstrations and protest become unlawful. As always, the Oakland Police Department is committed to facilitating peaceful forms of expression and free speech rights, and protecting personal safety and property. “
The city has announced that mutual aid help from other law enforcement agencies has been requested. Yet during a press conference last Wednesday, interim police Chief Howard Jordan said that the other agencies which responded last time may have violated the city’s use of force guidelines, which in theory prohibits non-Oakland cops from using non-OPD-approved weapons. It’s worth noting that these guidelines were put into place after a 2003 incident, in which 40 people were injured by rubber bullets during an anti-war demonstration at the Port.
Given this, it’s fair to wonder a) what precautions OPD is taking to ensure that peaceful protestors are not attacked this time, and b) how will the correct use of force guidelines be ensured?
In an email response, OPD spokesperson Johnna Watson noted that OPD was conducting an investigation into these questions, and that OPD was confident these concerns will be answered at the conclusion of the investigation. However, in all likelihood, this investigation will not be completed prior to Wednesday’s planned strike.
Confusion is also in evidence regarding the disruption of normal business activities which will arise, should the strike proceed as planned. Protestors have threatened to “occupy” banks and corporate offices and have asked businesses to close for the day as a show of solidarity. The city has announced that some streets may be closed and public transit may be impacted. Yet city offices and services will remain open. Merchants and businesses have been advised to sign up for emergency alert notifications and to “use common sense and precautions.”
Meanwhile, the OPOA letter continues, “a message has been sent to all police officers: Everyone, including those who have the day off, must show up for work on Wednesday. This is also being paid for by Oakland taxpayers. Last week’s events alone cost Oakland taxpayers over $1 million.”
The OPOA letter claims that OPD’s 645 “severely understaffed” officers are part of the 99%, but stops short of expressing solidarity with the Occupy movement. It concludes without an overt demand, instead aiming for an only-slightly subtle thwack at city leadership: “We respectfully ask the citizens of Oakland to join us in demanding that our City officials, including Mayor Quan, make sound decisions and take responsibility for these decisions.”
Calls and emails to OPOA and the Mayor’s office were not immediately returned.
The short take-away is that political intrigue at city hall may be at an all-time high. OPOA has put Quan and the city on blast. Yet it’s also worth noting that OPD has not stepped up and taken any responsibility in identifying the officer or officers involved in the Scott Olsen incident.
The bottom line? Public safety is a two-way street.
*Editor's Note: In an interview with OaklandLocal Sgt. Dom Arotzarena clarified that the estimated cost of $1 million is based on the cost of police overtime and the cost to businesses of the turmoil in downtown Oakland