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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?

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