Community Must Hold its Police Accountable

Community Must Hold its Police Accountable

The Alameda Sun received a copy of this statement from the members of the Policing Review and Racial Equity Committee, Accountability and Oversight Subcommittee.

As a community, Alameda is exploring how our police force can better serve and respect all members of our community. With the Jan. 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol Building and the multiple investigations into sworn police officer participation across the country, we have seen the manifestations and devastating results of the infiltration of white supremacists into all levels of law enforcement.

We know that Alameda is no exception to the issues plaguing this country. Our subcommittee has been working since September to determine how accountability and oversight can work within Alameda. We know Alameda needs to make a deliberate commitment to oversight by establishing a strong, fair, and proactive community-based accountability board.

For too long, police departments across the country have been relying on self-governance and Internal affairs to handle personnel problems, with little transparency or accountability to the public. This is not working. As community groups compare police departments across the country, we clearly see areas for improvement. The nationwide movement to end police violence, Campaign Zero, issued a police scorecard for the Alameda Police Department (APD). The organization noted Alameda’s success in having no deadly force incidents by firearm, but gave a grade of “D” to the department’s systems of oversight and accountability.

Last fall, APD held three public meetings to give members of the Policing Review and Racial Equity Committee to ask questions. The police seemed at key points unprepared to give substantive answers. They claimed to be unaware that police departments can be weaponized against the community through things like swatting and racially motivated calls.

We found out that a few 15-hour classes in the police academy are supposed to suffice for training officers in de-escalation, handling people with disabilities and dealing with mental health issues; there is no regular, ongoing training in these areas. This is unacceptable, especially given recent civil suit settlements over APD’s behavior.

We give the police extraordinary powers, including the power to end lives. With these powers must come accountability, or there will never be justice for all members of our community. This is not just about one incident with a man dancing in the street. It is not about one incident with a man struck from his bicycle and permanently disabled. This is about the right of all members of our community to experience the freedoms contemplated in the Declaration of Independence: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

One measure of the success of a police department is the trust of the community. But among many in the Black and Latinx communities, there is little confidence in getting protection or help from the police. That distrust of the police is not just rooted in community experiences, it is documented in the department’s own statistics of disparate patterns of stops and arrests.

People choose not to call the police about crimes because they simply do not have confidence that they will be treated fairly, and because of that they are often victims of crimes. In an era when other professions are using evidence and data to guide organizational and procedural changes, the police continue to rely on oversight methods that leave law enforcement to decide for themselves what best practices would be.

A police department without community accountability is also a financial risk to the city. The actions of Alameda police officers have cost the city substantial amounts of money: $250,000 in 2020 for an excessive-force incident that killed a Navy veteran and $450,000 in 2015 for permanently disabling a man during an arrest as just two examples. Litigation reports also show smaller settlements such as $50,000 in a false arrest and excessive force claim following a suicide prevention welfare check in 2018.

These incidents and the damage they caused to the community might have been avoided if there was a robust accountability board that reviewed police procedures, with a data analyst who could track patterns in arrest and stop records for individual officers to spot problematic behavior patterns. It would be better to have resources and staffing aimed where it is needed than to send four officers to arrest a man for dancing in the street.

So how do we move forward from here? For us, the answer is clear, our committee is recommending an accountability board that can work to ensure justice for all. One that offers a combination of practical and visionary police oversight to provide a space for community voices to be heard, and a variety of approaches to resolving complaints: everything from formal hearings to restorative justice. An accountability board can build bridges and open doors and create a safer and more welcoming city.

The board should be proactive about creating a better, evidencedriven police department, a benefit both to the police and to the community. Our ultimate goal as a city should be that complaints are rare and are taken seriously, not because minor complaints are dismissed, but because all people feel respected during interactions with APD, are satisfied with the level of policing they experience and feel safe in their community.

Please, review our draft recommendations and take a community survey to provide your feedback at www.alamedaca.gov/policingsurvey

Sean Cahill Laura Fries Melodye Montgomery Gavin Nelson Jennifer Rakowski Ayse Sercan Nairobi Taylor