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The dark side of police reform


So self-absorbed and out-of-touch is Oakland’s “Reimagining Public Safety” task force that they are able to publish blatant nonsense under the guise of fact and get away with it.

Well, no more.

They say the reason for “Reimagining” (which, let’s be honest, is merely the new politically correct word for “defunding”) is because “Many residents feel less safe in the presence of OPD.”

Now, this is a grammatically correct statement. It has a noun-subject (“Many residents”) and a verb (“feel”), so that it appears to represent reality. But does it? Who are these “many residents”? Has a census been taken?  No one asked me. I could say, with equal certitude, “Many residents feel safer in the presence of OPD.” I know I do, and so do most people I know. So just because a statement makes technical sense doesn’t make it true.

And who feels “less safe in the presence of OPD”? I’m sure that the rioters who throw rocks and bottles at cops feel “less safe,” as well they should: if you attack a police officer, you should feel unsafe. I suppose, also, that the defund-the-police people who commandeer City Council and Police Commission meetings don’t feel safe in the presence of cops (at least, they say they don’t), but you know and I know that, if they were mugged or their homes invaded, their first phone call wouldn’t be to John Burris but to 9-1-1.

But these downtown rioters are not normal Oaklanders. In many cases they’re white, privileged druggies who espouse vaguely radical extremist politics they think are fashionable and make them appear “progressive.” They also in many cases are anarchists who believe in no government at all. How else can you explain their fondness for smashing store windows, setting garbage cans on fire, wrecking bus stops and looting Targets and 7-Elevens? Does any of that help People of Color?

Here’s another whopper from the Reimagineers. “After 17 years under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, OPD still has 7 of 51 tasks that are in complete [sic].” Let’s get to the bottom of this famous “negotiated settlement.” In 2003, following allegations of police misconduct, OPD and the City of Oakland hired a so-called “Independent Monitor” to oversee “reforms.” That monitor was Robert Warshaw. In 2014, according to OaklandWiki, Warshaw was paid $502,000. A year ago, the Oakland-based civil rights attorney, Pamela Price, reported that since 2009, Oakland has “paid [Warshaw’s] two companies more than $8 million.”

It’s very difficult to obtain transparent information about Warshaw but two things are safe to say: He’s cleaning up financially as “Mr. Monitor” and he appears to have a lifetime sinecure; as long as he can allege that there remain “tasks” for OPD to complete, he’ll continue to make his money. So here, again, the Reimagineers resort to rhetorical trickery. They seem hell-bent on crushing OPD, and Warshaw is helping them do it. The Reimagining-Warshaw-Defund Complex fiddles while Oakland burns.

Here’s another spurious claim by the Reimagineers: “Significant investment is being made into less effective Punitive Enforcement versus more effective Community Empowerment & Crime Prevention.” Can someone tell me why locking up bad guys is “less effective”? Less effective than what–“Community Empowerment” and “Crime Prevention” programs? Nobody knows what those things are. They sound good…Who could be against “Crime Prevention”? I admit that my view of such programs is informed by reporting I did when I was a working journalist. I was investigating “violence prevention” programs in Oakland and stumbled upon a horrifying system of mutual back-scratching, secret financing and virtually non-existent accountability to see if the programs were actually preventing violence. The fact that, despite all of Oakland’s crime- and violence-prevention programs over the decades, crime and violence are at or near all-time highs is a terrible indictment of such programs. Yet we have a City Council that–having thrown up their hands because they don’t have the slightest idea how to actually combat crime–throws money at dubious social justice warriors who simply perpetuate the failed approaches of the past. I could make the same indictment of “Community Empowerment” programs. What “communities”? How do you “empower” a community? Fruitvale, Adams Point, Temescal—these are communities with lots of different people. The way to empower a community is for its people to live lives of decency and ethical consideration of others. There is no other way, especially not in Oakland, where grifters are always on the hunt for the main chance: free money from the city or its charitable partners to do things that sound and feel good, but in the end are monstrous wastes of time.

All this, by the way, is not to say that I don’t believe certain aspects of police reform are called for. Oakland’s MACRO program has some good points. And there’s room for improvement in the way we recruit and train cops, and how we deal with issues concerning the use of force and misconduct. But the Reimagineers take things way too far. They’ve been pretty successful up until now because no one has been organized or articulate enough to expose them and speak for the People, and because Oakland is a super-liberal city susceptible to the kind of rhetoric the Reimagineers indulge in. But I keep my finger to the wind, and I feel a change in the weather. In this battle (for that’s what it is) between moderates and radicals, we moderates are gaining the upper hand.

  1. Leslie Landberg says:

    Well said! The alarmingly ill- considered trend in this nation to defund and replace trained officers them hazy, feel-good notions will backfire so massively that a change in the wind is nearly guaranteed. Sadly, many additional thousands of innocent black and brown lives will be taken before people come to their collective senses.

  2. Thank you, Steve.

    I always doubt the “many people” argument when it is not backed by validated polls. I’ll bet you the “Reimaging” folks are taking cues from the Anti Police Terror folks. In light of that, the Oakland Chamber of Commerce had a poll that showed the opposite of what the APT had claimed (ie people want more police, not less).
    There is something at play in Oakland, even in the days of Ron Dellums. Ron declared that Oakland doesnt want more police and he said that a few moments after Oaklanders voted for Measure Y and opened our wallets further to fund for more police.
    And I sent an email to Loren Taylor, reminding him that the police cuts of 2010 really made Oakland a far more dangerous place.

  3. Dear Mark, there is indeed “something at play in Oakland,” and has been for many years. I have co-founded the Coalition for a Better Oakland to address this issue. We’ll have our website up in the next day or two. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Michelle says:

    “Mutual back-scratching, secret financing, and virtually non-existent accountability”- you hit the nail on the head here!

    Self-dealing all around, to benefit APTP-adjacent organizations. You can even read it in the RPSTF recommendations themselves! Arrogant and shameless.

    Per yesterday’s city council meeting, they are COMING FOR Measure Z funding- the funding WE VOTERS passed for MORE POLICE. Buckle up, everyone.

  5. Jack Saunders says:

    Excellent piece speaks for me. Most of my neighbors are worried and bewildered. GUN FIRE? A daily reality? This can’t be happening. Yet we now have the technology to actually count and tally every shot. This chaos is real. Criminals aren’t just shop lifting. They’re sticking guns in victims faces demanding their cars and their money. Cutting the police force at this juncture is, charitably, a peculiar strategy.

  6. Bob Rossi says:

    This statement struck me: “as long as he can allege that there remain “tasks” for OPD to complete, he’ll continue to make his money”
    In the 1980’s my law office represented a fringe political group (whose name you’d recognize, given your age) that often got information from “informants” who told them about bizarre threats against them and their leader. I eventually realized that these “informants” were being paid by the group for their work. Clearly, the money would stop flowing if every month they reported: “No threats this month.” So they just made stuff up.

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