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The Father of Oakland’s “Reimaging Public Safety Task Force” has a new idea: “Abolishing the police”


Anand Subramanium is the managing director of a social justice organization, Policy Link. He was co-facilitator of Oakland’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, the City Council’s infamous study group that has been associated with slashing the Oakland Police Department’s budget by up to 50%.

Subramanium and Policy Link have come out with a webinar that should scare the bejesus out of everyone concerned about crime and public safety. “Policing Can’t Be Reformed. Why Defunding and Abolishing is the Common-Sense Approach” is the title.

It’s a long webinar, some 90 minutes in length, and I’ll have more to say about it in future posts. But for now, I want to start with something that actually surprised me: Subramanium takes the basic tenets of modern police reform he once championed in Oakland and now alleges that none of them actually work.

Here are some of his claims:

Body cams should be rejected because they raise “privacy concerns.” Now, communities of color and police reformers have been demanding body cameras for years, only to be opposed by cops and their unions. But finally, police departments—under enormous pressure—have yielded, and begun providing their cops with cameras. That’s a good thing, right? Not so, according to Subramanium. His group doesn’t like body cams because a criminal suspect’s “privacy” might be violated. So throw away those body cams.

Ditto for Tasers. For years, cop reformers demanded that police use Tasers instead of guns to control non-compliant suspects. Now, Subramanium complains that Tasers “can be lethal.” So throw away the Tasers.

Nor does Subramanium think much of community policing. The police reform crowd has been demanding community policing for a long time, under the theory (which seems true to me) that if cops get to know residents, and vice versa, relationships of trust will more easily be built. But here’s Subramanium complaining that community policing is “vague,” only “PR,” and has somehow “tokenized” people of color. So throw away community policing.

Subramanium is even against so-called “bias training” for cops, which is designed to prevent them from racial profiling by making them aware of their own internal prejudices. Look: bias training, provided by psychologists and others, has become a gold standard of police education. The Oakland Police Department trains its officers in this way, and so do most other big city departments. But Subramanium is against such training. Why? It’s “unproven” and “easily ignored,” he argues. So throw away bias training.

How about “reform-minded police chiefs”? This, too, has been a demand by police reformers. We have one here in Oakland, LeRonne Armstrong, who has proven his willingness to work closely with police reformers. But Subramanium says “reform-minded police chiefs” don’t do any good, because their positions are “political,” because of “police unions,” and because the “entrenched culture” of police departments thwarts them in their efforts.

To learn all this, you might think Subramanium is some kind of rightwing militia type. Body cams don’t work. Tasers don’t work. Community policing doesn’t work. Bias training doesn’t work. Reform-minded police chiefs don’t work. In fact, according to him, nothing relating to current methods of police reform works.

And since nothing works, Subramanium demands the complete “Abolishing” (his word) of police departments! Not just partial defunding. Not just letting social workers handle mental cases and letting cops fight violent crime. Complete defunding leading to abolishing police departments is what Subramanium and his Policy Link group want.

Why didn’t Subramanium tell Oakland that when he was steering the Reimagining group? Why did he hide his radical plans?

Well, to paraphrase Churchill, Subramanium had, at least, a policy, albeit a very wrong, incoherent and dangerous one. I can hardly believe anyone could possibly think abolishing the police is sane, especially in Oakland, where violent crime is at its highest level in a decade.

But actually, the anti-cop rhetoric being hurled at cops may be resulting in something Subramanium and his Abolishing crowd want. Chief Armstrong reported yesterday that ten (10) officers have left OPD in the last three weeks, plunging the department to its lowest staffing level in six years. Maybe that’s Subramanium’s secret strategy: Make policing so odious for cops that they quit.

As for you, oh Average Oaklander, where does all this leave you? Not to worry. When you’re mugged, you can always call a social worker where a computer voice tells you you’re No. 17 in line, with an expected wait time of 127 minutes, during which you can choose to listen to a variety of music, or none at all.

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