Open Letter on Sick APD Culture

Open Letter on Sick APD Culture

Dear Mayor Ashcraft and City Councilmembers:
Last night, in front of my house, two intoxicated, drugged men passed out in their car, parked kitty-corner with the engine running and loud music playing. They were insensitive to attempts by my housemates to arouse them. Multiple people called the police over a period of about an hour and 45 minutes but no one came. On one of those calls, my housemate Robin Deboer called the police and told them our address and that there were two intoxicated men passed out in a car with the motor running and the first question asked was, “What race are they?”

I am appalled that this is the first question asked. There is no legitimate reason why this is the very first question asked in triaging what was an incredibly dangerous situation. Race was of no relevance to what was going on and I can’t possibly see any way in which an answer to that question helped the dispatcher to triage the situation. I call upon the Alameda Police Department (APD) and the City Council to explain why this racist question is the first question out of the mouth of an APD dispatcher. They are highly trained. It is hard to believe this was an isolated incident. 

As it happens, the two men were white and from Russia. Did that make them less dangerous or less an item of concern?

Perhaps that is what the APD believed because no police arrived until an hour later, when the tires exploded and the car engine caught on fire. It was only luck that the tree in front of my house did not catch fire and become a torch for causing my house or nearby houses to catch fire. It was only luck that these two men did not position the car in such a way that they drove up on the sidewalk and into the front of one of my neighbors’ houses, some of which are much closer to the street. 

It was the good sense and frustration of my housemates monitoring the situation and using our fire extinguisher that kept the two men safe and the fire under a modicum of control before multiple fire trucks and police cars came rushing to the scene — well after the cow was out of the barn. And yet, the many police who came on the scene did not bother to take statements from my two housemates, who were primary witnesses to what happened. Will the men be held to account and be made to pay for the damage they did? I hope so.

We were told that all of the Alameda police were busy protecting stores that were being robbed and looted last night. It is of course deeply ironic that they were busy because looters were taking advantage of unrest caused by police misconduct. I do understand that there are heavy demands on the police right now. However, in addition to being appalled at the racist questioning by the dispatcher, I question the triaging and priorities here. Which is more dangerous to our community — looters robbing an empty store, or two heavily drugged and intoxicated men in a running car in the middle of a residential neighborhood at 3:45 a.m., with houses full of people sleeping? 

If our police departments continue to operate according to racist beliefs about crime, the riots are going to continue. Because it’s bad policing that is causing these crimes, and you, as our elected representatives, need to step up and investigate the mindset and attitudes of our Alameda police to ensure that our city’s police force is not contributing to the problem. 

I’m not anti-police. My father was an assistant chief of police in the Washington, D.C. police department. He happened to be the person brought in to remake the department’s recruiting and personnel policies after the race riots in 1967. Policing is a tough job and we need to support creating the best police force we can. That includes ensuring that our police force represents the diversity of our community and is not, wittingly or unwittingly, contributing to the pattern of systemic racism that is rightly being called out by protestors around our country and around the world.

So I want to hear from you what you plan to do to investigate the policies and procedures around dispatching and triaging calls to the APD. I also want an answer as to why my housemates were not interviewed by police at the scene