Resisting Reform Comment on
proposed recommendations

Resisting Reform: Recommendations from the Clinic’s Report on OPD Reform

The Stanford Law School International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic would like to thank everyone who provided their opinions, recommendations, and ideas at our event at Laney College on Thursday, December 12.  We appreciate the time and assistance of so many community members, including our panelists, organizers, and participants, and we hope everyone found the event as useful and informative as we did.

We recognize that the reform of the Oakland Police Department is an ongoing project with many stakeholders, the most important of which is the community that OPD is committed to protect and serve.  Since not everyone was able to attend the event, we would like to invite anyone with an interest in OPD’s reform process to join the conversation here.

We have divided our preliminary recommendations into individual blog posts.  We invite your comments and feedback on each of these posts.  We hope to draw on this feedback as we finalize our recommendations before releasing our report, Resisting Reform.

To provide us with your thoughts, please click on an item and it will take you to the post where you can read about our proposed recommendation, and share your thoughts in the input in the comments beneath.  Comments are anonymous by default, but please feel free – if you wish and believe it to be relevant – to share with us your institutional affiliation or role in the community.

  • OPD:
  1. Develop proactive, credible, and publicly-accessible processes to demonstrate officers’ awareness of policies designed to protect the rights of Oakland citizens (ex: Oakland’s Crowd Control Policy, OPD’s business card policy, etc.)
  2. Publish Crowd Control Compliance Reports following any police encounters with social protest movements
  3. Increase the opportunities for OPD officers to engage with the Oakland Community
  4. Recruit more OPD officers from Oakland
  5. “Civilianize” the oversight of the OPD
  • Alameda District Attorney and US Attorney’s Office:
  1. Prosecute more OPD officers who have been found to commit crimes or egregiously violate policies
  • Oakland Municipal Authorities:
  1. Change incentives for Oakland City Attorney to aggressively pursue decisions to terminate OPD officers as a result of serious violations of departmental policy
  2. Improve communication with the police department
  3. Improve communication with the public
  4. Create political space for police reform
  • California’s Mutual Aid System:
  1. Reform to allow for greater department discretion and officer accountability
  • Citizen Activists:
  1. Find creative and non-violent means of expressing opinions and ideas, and stay involved in the conversations between the OPD and the city


If you think we’ve missed any major recommendations, or you have a general comment, please click here.

Thank you for your support; together, we hope to spark dialogue between all the parties involved that will lead to a more transparent, accountable, and communicative OPD.

OPD Reform 3: Engage with the Oakland Community

Recommendation: Increase the opportunities for OPD officers to engage with the Oakland Community

Many Oakland residents still have a profound distrust of the Oakland Police Department.  In addressing this legacy of fear—caused in large part by decades of racism, poverty, inequality, and police violence—the OPD needs to proactively build trust with the community it serves.  This is true particularly for Oakland’s minority (and economically more disadvantaged) communities.  But even in Oakland’s more wealthy neighborhoods, citizens need reassurance that the OPD is there for them.

The task of rebuilding this trust may require structural changes to the OPD.  It may also require additional resources or reallocations of present spending priorities.

For example, interviewees living in Oakland repeatedly told our research team about the perceived indignity of being policed by officers who themselves lived and grew up outside of Oakland.  Interviewees spoke of a profound lack of understanding of Oakland’s communities of color among some OPD officers who grew up outside of Oakland.  This sentiment was especially pronounced when white officers were stationed in communities of color.

Speaking at an event at Stanford University about the death of Oscar Grant at the hands of a BART Police Officer on January 1, 2009, Wanda Johnson—Oscar Grant’s mother—expressed her plea to the police as follows:

“Police officers need to hear the talk.  This way, they’ll become more sensitive to the communities.  They need to dialogue with African American men. Why do young black men wear baggy pants?  Because it’s a trend. Why do they always pull them up?  Because they’re always falling down.  You hear cops all the time saying that they shot someone because they thought he was reaching for his beltline.  Well – he probably was.  Especially if he ran a few steps — his pants were probably falling down. [laughter] If they’d know their community more they’d know these things.”

Ideas for fostering such interactions could take place in more structured contexts—such as at youth centers, schools, community centers, local activist organizations, and local businesses.  They might also involve less formal interactions, such as officers engaging positively with members of the public in the streets.

How do police officers best get to know the communities they are policing?

OPD Reform 2: Publish Crowd Control Compliance Reports

Recommendation: Publish Crowd Control Compliance Reports following any police encounters with social protest movements (OPD)

As Oakland’s history of protest shows, the OPD’s commitment to its own Crowd Control Policy will ultimately be tested by how well it adheres to its policy when put to the test – i.e., when there are crowds that need to be controlled.  Thus, as a matter of demonstrating its commitment to its own policy, OPD should consider issuing a standardized report following any interaction between OPD and a social protest movement.  This report should draw on incident reports and subsequent investigations to ensure that the public is aware of OPD’s efforts to ensure that its officers comply with the Crowd Control Policy.

What elements should be contained in these kinds of public reports that would give the community confidence that OPD is doing its best to control crowds in a constitutional manner and hold those who violate those norms accountable for their behavior?

OPD Reform 1: Officer Awareness of the Crowd Control Policy

Recommendation: Develop proactive, credible, and publicly-accessible processes to demonstrate officers’ awareness of policies designed to protect the rights of Oakland citizens (ex: Oakland’s Crowd Control Policy, OPD’s business card policy, etc.)

We believe that Oakland could have effectively avoided many of the problems associated with the police response to the Occupy protests had the OPD followed its own Crowd Control Policy.  Additional internal procedures to ensure compliance with this policy could have prevented the violence, injuries, and erosion of trust between the OPD and the Oakland community.

Similarly, other policies already in place might help to overcome much of the distrust and fear that continues to hamper OPD’s relationship with the community.  One example includes the business card policy stipulating that police officers shall hand out “Informational Business Cards” to community members asking for that officer’s information, or to juveniles whom the officer detained or asked for his/her personal information.

At a minimum, the OPD needs to recommit to its own internal policies designed to maintain the trust between it and the community.  OPD’s crowd control policy is an example of what a strong crowd control policy might look like on paper, but in practice, OPD’s troubled history since 2003 demonstrates that the policy has not been fully integrated into OPD’s behavior. The OPD urgently needs to develop effective strategies for achieving this objective.

OPD has made critical strides towards improving its officers’ knowledge and adherence to its Crowd Control Policy. On April 23, 2012, former Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan announced “major reforms” to the policy, including more targeted arrests, improved training, and clearer dispersal orders prior to making any arrests.  And indeed, the May Day protest a week later—which members of this research team observed as legal observers—proceeded with minimal incident.  Thus, it is possible that the OPD has already instituted some of these necessary reforms.

Nonetheless—especially in the minds of protesters and community activists who still remember all-too-vividly the events of 2011 and 2012—OPD must go beyond simply improving its internal training policies.  To re-build the support and trust of the Oakland community, the OPD must proactively demonstrate the effectiveness of its training to the public.  This might include making more information about police officers’ training records publicly available, and asking officers to demonstrate in some public way that they understand the details of the crowd control policy.

What other concrete measures could OPD undertake to demonstrate to the community a more healthy awareness of, and adherence to, its internal procedures designed to protect civil liberties and build trust with the community?