A proposal advocating changes to the Oakland Police Department’s recruiting practices passed unanimously this week at a packed Public Safety Committee meeting.
“We have for many years received concerns about underrepresentation of people of Oakland, underrepresentation of people of color and particularly African Americans, and underrepresentation of LGBT people and women,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who sponsored the resolution.
“While still being able to fully respect all the difficult work our officers do every day, I think we can recognize that all these under-representations negatively impact our ability to strengthen the bonds of trust and mutual respect with the community,” she said, speaking at Tuesday’s meeting.
Rather than requesting policy adoption, Kaplan explained that the resolution was meant to propose a list of changes in how new police officers are picked and to research and report back on the feasibility of the changes.
The resolution listed 10 proposals for review, including prohibiting the use of marijuana as a grounds for rejecting an application, expanding outreach and strategies to mitigate underrepresentation of women, LGBT people and people of color in the department, and seeking a goal of at least 50 percent new hires to be from or have some connection with Oakland.
“There’s a huge difference between a local officer, meaning from here, and the other officers. They get a different response,” said public speaker Ron Muhammad.
Kaplan told council members that several people “were told they were rejected for past marijuana use” and that two OPD applicants were told they were rejected for having debt, which was addressed in the recommendation as well.
“We take people without a college education, but we don’t take people with a college education and student loan debt?” said Kaplan. “That is a significant problem if that is going on.”
Citing a recent letter from the Oakland Black Officers Association that raised concerns about Black officers being misrepresented in statements made by Mayor Libby Schaaf, Kaplan emphasized new practices must also look at how the department treats people once they are hired.
“As we are trying to recruit a police force that is reflective of Oakland, we don’t want to make the very folks we are having problems recruiting feel like they are being mistreated in a way that might scare applicants away,” she said.
The resolution will return to the Public Safety Committee at their next meeting on Sept. 13 with recommendations from Kaplan and the department as to how to implement the changes.
“Adding these areas to look at won’t fully address all of the issues we have with respect to the treatment and training,” said Councilmember Desley Brooks.