OPD has had its share of problems. The painful, disturbing legacy of the Riders. $57 million paid out to alleged victims of police abuse between 2001 and 2011. Poor handling of Occupy Oakland in 2011. A very recent sex scandal where multiple officers paid for sex with a minor, followed by the resignation of police chief Sean Whent and, in quick succession, two interim police chiefs.

Pretty bad stuff.

But in the last couple years, Oakland crime has dropped significantly, especially homicides, but also robberies and assaults. Officer use of force is down 75%. Citizen complaints against police are down 50%. Something is clearly going better.

I recently attended a community meeting with Mayor Libby Schaaf, and learned a few things:

  • Though Oakland’s police-to-crime ratio is still one of the lowest in the nation (if not the lowest), our police department is much better staffed than it was a few years ago. Oakland police are responding to more crimes, doing so much faster, and most importantly, interacting with the community more and thereby preventing crime (through visibility, familiarity, and information sharing).
  • OPD has changed many of its policies to reduce the chance of violent escalation. For example, foot chases and car chases are abandoned more quickly in exchange for slower perimeter capture strategies. This slows everything down and reduces the chance of injuries and casualties for officers, suspects, and bystanders.
  • Oakland police officers are trained to interact appropriately with people suffering from mental illness, thereby making things safer for everyone involved.
  • OPD works directly with Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt (a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient) to understand, deconstruct, and counter inherent racial bias as it pertains to police work.
  • Another interesting policy: Oakland police officer are trained to inform suspects that personal searches are voluntary and may legally be refused. Does any other police department do this?
  • Last but not least, Oakland is effectively implementing the Ceasefire program, which I’ve written about before.

In many ways, OPD is on the forefront of being a progressive, forward-thinking department, committed to social justice. While there may be a long way to go, Oakland police culture is changing for the positive. And crime is dropping.

So when do we get a new police chief? Apparently (after a long community input process) the job listing went public on Friday. Schaaf is confident we’ll get a strong pool of applicants.

After a multi-decade rough patch, I’m cautiously optimistic that our police department is headed in the right direction, getting the resources they need to do their jobs, and doing their best to protect and serve all our residents (not just the wealthy white ones). Thank you to the hardworking police officers of Oakland.