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Oakland, Violence and PTSD

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Mental health is almost never brought up as a subject of conversation in Black America – certainly not in urban communities like Oakland where shootings and bursts of domestic violence are often leading stories on the evening news.

In a city like Oakland – where 35 percent of non-affluent young adults are unemployed –children grow up in a world constantly rocked by crime and violence that shapes their expectations for themselves and they people they love.

Oakland has become a modern day warzone. According to the 2013 Year End Crime Report from the City of Oakland, the city averages 107 homicides a year. The city’s ShotSpotter technology, which captures the sound of gunshots within the city, recorded 16,000 rounds of gunfire last year.

It’s a sad truth, but by the time many Oakland youth have entered high school, they have experienced the sudden death of a friend or loved one.

Yet discussing the impact of these long-term wounds is taboo, more than likely swept under the rug where they are left to fester. The unwillingness to initiate a frank discussion of mental health issues contributes to the problem.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime “The trauma of victimization is a direct reaction to the aftermath of crime” and that “crime victims suffer a tremendous amount of physical and psychological trauma, often referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

This is a sobering insight that becomes more starkly real in the context of one young man’s

22nd Avenue and E. 28th streets, the place where Ricky Hollins and friends were shot.

22nd Avenue and E. 28th streets, the place where Ricky Hollins and friends were shot.

life.

Rickey Hollins, 18 years old in 2006, was standing on a corner talking to a group of friends when a car pulled up. Three shooters got out with AK47s and opened fire on the group.

His sister was shot in the pelvis, and another friend was hit in the shoulder and back. Hollins received a shoulder wound. His friend Jay Black died on the scene.

Hollins’ best friend, Willie Clay, III, was laying on the ground unresponsive. He was transported to a hospital but died from one gunshot wound to the head.

“I feel guilty because we should have left the scene before anything happened,” said Hollins. “We had a plan to leave but we stayed.”

Hollins remembers cleaning his friend’s blood and brains off the concrete. He says some of Clay’s dreadlocks had come off his head when he was shot. He cleaned them and gave them to Clay’s mother.

One health professional who has to deal with the aftermath of these bursts of horrific violence is Dr. Swapnil Shah, director of the Orthopedic Trauma Center of Alameda Health Systems.

Working at Highland Hospital, the center assists patients with numerous muscular and skeletal problems. Nearly 50 percent of those daily patients are victims of violence.

The center’s patients have physical injuries that are noticeable and in most instances easily treatable, but the psychological issues are lasting and go untreated, according to Dr. Shah.

“If they’ve lost a loved one, they will become very distrustful and easily develop a hypersensitivity to pain,” he said. “They hold onto that physical pain as a marker to their emotional pain.

“[PTSD] is an under-diagnosed condition in our clinic and undertreated condition in our population,” he said.

Willie Clay III, the best friend of Hollins who was fatally shot.

Willie Clay III, the best friend of Hollins who was fatally shot.

In Oakland, as in other urban communities, “It’s like a badge of honor to say I’ve been shot, but nobody is willing to say how scared they were when they got shot,…or how they feel going into the world after being shot,” Shah added.

“They are so terrified.”

Hollins is one victim who is unafraid to admit that he was scared or that the incident left him physically and emotionally sick. He said he was angry frustrated, and had to smoke a lot of weed to get through.

That instant of violence has permanently changed his perspective on life. He no longer likes Fourth of July because he can’t deal with the loud noises, and being out late makes him feel uncomfortable.

Though he went to a doctor for his physical wound, he was never offered a counselor or provided any resources to talk to a psychologist. Rather, he admits – just as Dr. Shah stated – that the bullet lodged in his bicep became a marker for his emotional pain.

Before the bullet was finally removed in 2012, he says he couldn’t work, because he couldn’t move his arm, and when he did it reminded him of the day he lost his best friend.

“It probably was a mental thing,” he said. “[But] I was never offered help, I counseled myself .”

And that’s the story that affects the lives of so many youth living in Oakland’s minority communities – the place most dominantly affected by the violence.

In order for that to change, Dr. Shah suggests that the basic approach of health systems has to be one that works with people to help them change their approach to life.

“The whole point is to not only save people lives but to save people’s lifestyles,” he said. “That shift in mentality has to come at this fundamental level.”

This story was reported with support from a grant from the nonprofit(s) Entertainment Industries Council.

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Bay Area

Popular Chief LeRonne Armstrong Placed on Administrative Leave During Investigation of Police Misconduct

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing. “We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

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In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies,” said Armstrong, speaking at a press conference

By Ken Epstein

Refusing to accept administrative leave during a police misconduct investigation, OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong fired back with a press conference of his own this week, organized by a high-profile corporate public relations and communications firm.

“I should be the chief of police and remain in my position,” he said. “I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies.”

Mayor Sheng Thao placed Armstrong on administrative leave with pay while his role in an officer misconduct cover-up scandal is investigated by internal affairs. The case involves a highly paid police sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run automobile accident in San Francisco and is accused of later discharging a gun in an OPD freight elevator and disposing of the shell casings by throwing them off the Bay Bridge.

At a press conference Monday at the office of PR consultant Sam Singer’s office in Emeryville, Armstrong did not blame Mayor Sheng Thao for placing him on leave but instead denounced federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, who oversees the police department and evaluates its reform efforts as a representative for the federal court that has overseen OPD for two decades.

In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“This to me, clearly, is a last-ditch effort to destroy the credibility of me…and to make the community believe that Oakland police is involved in some shady business,” he said.

He blasted Warshaw’s “ulterior motives,” accusing him and his team of seeking a reason to continue to be paid over $1 million a year to oversee the department, which was potentially set to exit from federal oversight at the end of May.

“It’s hard to say a mayor who’s been in the seat for just a couple of weeks would be able to push back against a monitor at this point,” Armstrong said, adding that some city officials might be “intimidated” by Warshaw’s team.

City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement that her office agreed that the recent report on OPD deficiencies “revealed failures that call into question the integrity of (OPD’s) internal investigation processes.”

Many observers and police accountability activists are saying that the present scandal and subsequent community uproar over Chief Armstrong is best resolved by removing police misconduct investigations from OPD and instead turning the cases over to an independent civilian body.

Defending the department’s internal investigation, Armstrong said the investigation that was conducted was “consistent with the findings that were presented to me.”

“To work and get to this point and have it taken away from you hurts. It doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts my community because every day I come into this job to try to make Oakland better,” he said. Prior to this incident, Armstrong has been widely praised for helping make significant reforms at OPD and paving the way for an end to federal court intervention.

Armstrong said the sergeant involved in the case, who was identified in the media as Michael Chung, was placed on leave following the shooting incident, but that the chief was unable to review the case because Warshaw had taken over the investigation.

Sergeant Chung, one of Oakland’s most highly paid employees, received total pay and benefits of $492,779.77 in 2021, including regular pay of $160,828.84 and overtime pay of $276,959.38.

Armstrong, who has deep ties in the Oakland community, was born and raised in West Oakland, California, and was a graduate of McClymond’s High School. He joined the OPD as a police officer in 1999, after spending four years with the Alameda County Probation Department. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing.

“We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that, under our administration, that we take these findings seriously and it’s important that we look at taking the corrective action that is needed to make sure that we stay on track to make sure that we get out of the federal oversight,” she said.

“My belief is that, by holding ourselves accountable, we can be safer and a more just city,” Mayor Thao said.

At a federal court hearing Tuesday, Judge William Orrick, not addressing the criticisms of Warshaw’s role, said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the findings of the outside report conducted by attorneys hired by the City of Oakland, which revealed “significant cultural problems” that still exist after 20 years of court oversight.

The oversight began as a result of the negotiated resolution to a civil rights lawsuit in the Riders scandal in which plaintiffs alleged that four veteran officers, known as the ‘Riders,’ planted evidence and beat residents, while OPD turned a blind eye to the police misconduct.

“This is the third time since I’ve been overseeing the implementation of the (settlement) that the city has seemed to come close to full compliance,” Judge Orrick said, “only to have a serious episode arise that exposes rot within the department.”

Mayor Sheng Thao said she takes this case seriously, not a minor fender bender as some have dismissed it, and that said those involved will be “disciplined appropriately.”

“This particular misconduct is serious because it provides fertile ground for other misconduct to thrive,” she said at the hearing. “I will not tolerate toxic subcultures that try to demonize or deter officers who do the right thing.”

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Bay Area

Report Reveals California Cops Explicit Bias against African Americans

While the data show that most people consent to a search when asked by an officer, research from the report reflects that this “consent” is not necessarily voluntary because of the inherent power inequality between a law enforcement officer and a member of the public. 

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The Board’s analyses reveal significant disparities that warrant further examination of law enforcement practices. 
The Board’s analyses reveal significant disparities that warrant further examination of law enforcement practices. 

By Stacy M. Brown | NNPA Newswire

A new report has revealed that California law enforcement officers searched, detained on the curb or in a patrol car, handcuffed, and removed from vehicles more individuals perceived as Black than individuals perceived as white, even though they stopped more than double the number of individuals perceived as white than individuals perceived as Black.

California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board’s report gathered information from 18 law enforcement agencies.

The data revealed that officers stopped 2.9 million individuals in 2020. Most were African Americans and members of the LGBTQ community.

The agency said that the data included what officers “perceived” to be the race, ethnicity, gender, and disability status of people they stopped, even if the perception was different from how the person identified.

According to the data, authorities search African Americans 2.4 times more than whites and disproportionately more than other racial and ethnic groups.

It also found that individuals officers perceived as transgender women were 2.5 times more likely to be searched than women who appeared cisgender.

Data for the report came from the state’s most important law enforcement agencies, like the California Highway Patrol.

However, the highway patrol didn’t include data analyzing stops based on gender identity.

All agencies must report the data in 2023.

“The data in this report will be used by our profession to evaluate our practices as we continue to strive for police services that are aligned with our communities’ expectations of service,” Chief David Swing, co-chair of the Board and past president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said in a statement.

The report further showed that Black and Hispanic individuals were more likely to have force used against them compared to white individuals, while Asian and other individuals were less likely.

Specifically, the odds of having force used during a stop were 1.32 times and 1.16 times as high for Black and Hispanic individuals, respectively.

Asian and other individuals whom officers stopped had lower odds of having force used against them (0.80 and 0.82, respectively) relative to the odds for those perceived as white.

Search discovery rate analyses showed that, when officers searched individuals, all races, or ethnic groups of color, except for Asian and Middle Eastern/South Asian individuals, had higher search rates despite having lower rates of discovering contraband than individuals perceived as white.

Furthermore, a search and discovery rate analysis show that officers searched people perceived to have a mental health disability 4.8 times more often and people perceived to have other types of disabilities 2.7 times more often than people perceived to have no disability.

Still, they discovered contraband or evidence at a lower rate during stops and searches of people with disabilities.

Officers used force against individuals perceived to have mental health disabilities at 5.2 times the rate at which they used force against individuals they perceived to have no disabilities.

The data show that Black and Hispanic/Latinx individuals are asked for consent to search at higher rates than white individuals.

Officers searched Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and multiracial individuals at higher rates for consent-only searches than all other racial/ethnic groups.

These consent-only searches resulted in lower rates of discovery of contraband (8.5%, 11.3%, and 13.0%, respectively) than searches of all other racial and ethnic groups.

The reason for the stop was a traffic violation in more than half of the stops where officers conducted a consent-only search (consent being the only reason for the search) of Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Middle Eastern/South Asian individuals.

On the other hand, less than 30% of the consent-only searches of white people happened during traffic stops.

The people who wrote the report said that searches based on consent alone lead to fewer discoveries than searches based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

With consent-only searches, the rate of finding something was 9.2 percentage points lower for Black people than for white people.

“Given the disparities in the data on consent searches, the board questions whether consent searches are truly voluntary,” the authors wrote.

While the data show that most people consent to a search when asked by an officer, research from the report reflects that this “consent” is not necessarily voluntary because of the inherent power inequality between a law enforcement officer and a member of the public.

The research shows that this natural power imbalance is evident in vulnerable groups, such as people with mental health problems or young people, who may be more likely to give in to authority.

“Indeed,” the authors wrote, “RIPA data reflects that for both people with mental health disabilities and youth, a larger proportion of their stops that began as consensual encounters resulted in searches, as compared to people without mental health disabilities or adults.”

Board members said they carefully looked at the data about people who were stopped and searched because of their status as people under supervision.

The Board’s analyses reveal significant disparities that warrant further examination of law enforcement practices.

For example, officers performed supervision-only searches – where supervision status is the only basis for the search – of individuals perceived as Black at 2.8 times the rate at which they performed supervision-only searches of individuals they perceived as white.

Similarly, officers also performed supervision plus searches – where the officer had some other basis to search the person – of Black individuals at 3.3 times the rate they performed supervision plus searches of white individuals.

The rates of discovering contraband for supervision-only searches were lower for all racial/ethnic groups than white individuals; Black individuals had the most considerable difference in their discovery rate (-11.4 percentage points) compared to whites.

Officers also reported a higher proportion of supervision-only searches during stops for traffic violations (46.9%) than during reasonable suspicion stops (24.6%).

“These were just a few of the many disparities discussed in the report,” board members noted.

“Given the large disparities observed, the Board reviewed efforts by various law enforcement agencies to limit inquiries into supervision status as well as stops and searches on the basis of supervision status.

“The RIPA data further indicates that the practice of conducting supervision-only searches shows racial disparities that result in low yield rates of contraband or evidence.”

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Activism

Study Reveals Crisis in New Recruit Police Training Across America

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The report contended that, far too often, police recruits are trained as warriors, not as guardians and partners intended for civil communities. To effect change, new officers should receive new and adequate instruction sensitive to the communities they serve, researchers wrote. “The current state of recruit training demands that we rethink – and remake – the system for how new police officers is trained,” the researchers argued.

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Researchers concluded the report by noting that American policing needs to re-imagine and retool recruit training.
Researchers concluded the report by noting that American policing needs to re-imagine and retool recruit training.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

A comprehensive new report asserted that American authorities have traditionally trained police officers on the cheap, noting that more than 71% of agencies devote less than 5% of their total budget to recruit training.

Issued by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the report found that nearly half of the agencies responding to the survey agreed that spending on recruit training had increased over the past five years.

However, that was before police budgets faced the dual challenges of cuts related to the COVID-19 pandemic and calls to “defund” the police.

The 84-page exposition noted that investments in training could be stalled or reduced at the very time they need to increase to bring about changes required in American policing.

Researchers found that in many jurisdictions, “the goal seems to be moving as many recruits as possible through academy training as fast as possible and at the lowest possible cost.”

They argued that this approach had been driven partly by the desire to quickly get more officers on the street – a challenge that became particularly acute as officer hirings declined and retirements and resignations increased because of the COVID-19 pandemic and as homicides and other violent crimes surged.

“Besides recruiting and hiring, there is perhaps no activity that is more crucial to the success of police departments and sheriffs’ offices than how they train recruits,” researchers wrote.

“Recruit training is where new officers acquire the basic knowledge and skills to do their jobs. It’s where they learn the right way to do things and have an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, without the serious consequences of making those mistakes in the field.”

They continued:

“It is where new officers acquire the foundation of technical know-how that will stay with them throughout their careers. But recruit training is about more than just technical instruction.

“Recruit training is where prospective officers are introduced to the concept of public safety and public service. The training academy is where police agencies can articulate their philosophy and vision and begin to instill their core values.

“Finally, recruit training is where agencies build and reinforce their culture through the next group of frontline employees.”

While policing has changed in many respects throughout the years, officers struggle with challenges on several fronts, including dealing with individuals in crisis.

The report contended that, far too often, police recruits are trained as warriors, not as guardians and partners intended for civil communities.

To effect change, new officers should receive new and adequate instruction sensitive to the communities they serve, researchers wrote.

“The current state of recruit training demands that we rethink – and remake – the system for how new police officers is trained,” the researchers argued.

“We need national consensus and national standards on what the training contains, how it is delivered, and by whom.

“This report may present a grim picture of the current state of recruit training, but it also puts forth a series of principles that can help guide the transformation of training to meet the challenges of policing for today and tomorrow.”

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the PERF, said one could ascertain much about a police training academy from the moment an individual walks in the door and encounter a group of recruits.

“If the recruits immediately back up against the nearest wall, look straight ahead, and bark out in unison, ‘Good morning, ma’am!” or “Good afternoon, sir!” you pretty much know the culture and operating philosophy of that academy,” Wexler stated.

“If, on the other hand, the recruits pause, look you in the eye, and offer a more conversational, “Good morning, sir” or “How are you today, ma’am,” that tells you something else.

“Academies have traditionally followed a paramilitary, boot camp-like model that emphasizes discipline, deportment, following orders, and a strict hierarchy where recruits are often on the lowest rung.

Wexler continued:

“Discipline and following the chain of command are certainly important and necessary aspects of police training and operations. But when those elements become so pervasive that they overshadow almost everything else, it can undermine the academy’s mission, which is to prepare new police officers to serve and protect their communities with compassion and humanity.”

Researchers concluded the report by noting that American policing needs to re-imagine and retool recruit training.

They recommended that officials rethink how academies are operated and staffed, what the recruit curriculum contains, and how the training is delivered and by whom.

They also suggested authorities rethink how to use reality-based scenario training more broadly and effectively and how recruit training integrates with field training once recruits leave the academy.

“Re-imagining policing begins with tackling how police officers are taught. This report is a blueprint for fundamentally rethinking the current way we train new police officers – for dismantling the existing model and building a new approach,” Wexler asserted.

“The goals are ambitious and far-reaching. But we hope that if police agencies can attract those who possess the ‘right stuff,’ we can provide them with the kind of training that will take us into the future guided by a new way of thinking.”

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