Oversight Group Lacks Any Foresight

Oversight Group Lacks Any Foresight

Dear City Council Members:
At the end of last year, I resigned as a volunteer of the “Civilian Oversight and Accountability Sub-Committee.” In my opinion, the Council’s current plan to consider recommendations by the Committee to reform the Alameda Police Department (APD) is noble but flawed by a lack of foresight in three ways:

• Failure to have an open dialogue involving the entire community and the police. My observation is that many of my fellow Alamedans who are not Black or Brown don’t believe that APD needs changing, in spite of data to the contrary.

If we are to build trust between black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and APD, the officers and the entire community (including those who don’t think that it affects them) has to participate, generate and buy into solutions. Relying on a hand-picked few behind closed doors doing a survey won’t get there.

• Failure to provide sufficient time and resources to gather
relevant data and plan accordingly for success. In the 1970s, Berkeley made radical changes to the employment and recruitment process for police officers and installed a Police Review Commission. At the height of the ensuing exodus of officers transferring to other agencies, the department lost more than 100 years of officer experience in a single 12-month period.

Not only was there a noticeable drop in the level of service but getting back up to minimum levels of staffing took nearly a decade. We need to spend more time and resources to thoroughly examine ways to achieve our goals, whatever they may be. Changing our policies and procedures alone will not build trust. People on both sides working together for a common goal will more likely build that trust.

• Sending the wrong message to APD employees. You have directed a civilian-led committee to make recommendations to reform APD without the active and open participation of sworn personnel. I believe many of those officers include competent and progressive-leaning men and women, but the police union that represents them may resist any and all changes.

Officers will respond positively to a culture of constant improvement and professionalism, much less so if they feel their careers and lives may be put on the line in an environment lacking support.

Changing the culture will require the active and visible partnership of the field training officers, sergeants and lieutenants. Keeping the good officers and recruiting more like them will be challenging. The acceptance rate of applicants in law enforcement is typically between 1 and 2%, and Alameda’s pay and benefits has never been exceptional. It may be well to remember that bees are attracted to honey, not vinegar.

Prior to my retirement after 33 years, I served as a human resources manager for several public agencies. I also sat as the chairperson of the Alameda Civil Service Board. I also served for 20 years as a reserve Police officer for the Berkeley Police Department, as co-chairperson of the California Law Enforcement Association of Recruiters Inc. and as past-president of the California Asian Peace Officer’s Association.

---Michael Robles-Wong