Columns written for the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper, Berkeley, CA
Berkeley Daily Planet

Portrait by John W. Pearson




January 25 , 2008

I don’t usually find myself in agreement—even partial agreement—with NovoMetro columnist V Smoothe, but she raises some points in her January 16th post “Mayor’s Cop Promise Impossible To Keep” that ought to be considered.

Ms. Smoothe (she’s never given any other identification, so I can’t call her by any other name), writes that “During Monday night’s State of the City address, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums made one promise to the city of Oakland, saying, ‘Whatever it takes, by the end of this year, we will be at 803 police officers. Whatever it takes.’ Sadly, no matter how sincere the Mayor’s intentions are, the realities of the Police Department hiring process make this impossible, even with intensified recruitment efforts.”

After citing some facts and figures to show why she believes this, Ms. Smoothe’s column concludes that “the first available Academy for applicants who take the February 21st test will be the 166th Academy, beginning in September 2008, which will not be graduating until February 2009. Even if the department makes immediate changes to recruitment and training, it is already too late to have any impact on the number of police that will complete the Academy during this year.”

Jeff Collins of the Community Policing Advisory Board made the same point during public comment following the mayor’s shorter address to Oakland City Council the night following his Marriott speech, Mr. Collins saying that despite stepped-up recruiting, “the Oakland Police Academy is flunking more people this year than ever before. It’s not a function of our recruiting. It’s a function of the heightened marketplace.” Mr. Collins told me before the Council meeting that police recruiting is getting to be like corporate head-hunting these days, with some of the larger departments even offering lucrative signing bonuses.

For those reasons, I had the same doubts about the ability of Mr. Dellums’ to fulfill his full-strength police promise. During his speech, the mayor gave eight approaches to how to reach the 803 goal by the end of this year. While most of them were very important initiatives to raise the number of Oakland police to full strength in the long term—such as sponsoring pre-academy preparation programs in conjunction with the Peralta colleges, or supporting concurrent academies rather than one at a time—only one of the mayor’s proposals, encouraging veteran officers to stay on rather than retiring, appeared to have much chance of making a difference in absolute OPD numbers by the end of this year.

The mayor is most likely going to take a political hit on this as we near the end of 2008 and if—one could even say when—we are short of the 803 full-strength target. How big a hit will be determined by how short, as well as how successful (or unsuccessful) are Mr. Dellums’ other police reforms, particularly Chief Wayne Tucker’s breaking down of the department’s command and deployment structure into more manageable, community-friendly geographic districts. If the police reorganization results by the end of the year in citizens seeing better response and follow-up from patrol officers and commanders, as well as police and city actions to mitigate crime and violence problems in advance, then the significance of reaching the 803 police strength will seem less immediately important.

It’s good, for a change, to see some reasoned, thoughtful criticism of the mayor. The silly season of the Dellums Corps d’Attack continues, at the gallop, led with spurs digging and whips flailing by the folks at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Two weeks ago was the “Could Dellums Be An Albatross?” January 11th posting by Chronicle political blogger Carla Marinucci, in which Ms. Marinucci began by asking the rhetorical question “Is it time wonder whether Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's wooing of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums was really such a wise move?”

She thinks that it was not, saying that Ms. Clinton’s decision to ask Mr. Dellums advice on urban matters, including public safety, has “got to rankle Oakland residents in both the flatlands and the hills who are increasingly livid about what critics complain is Dellums' utter lack of urban policy. To wit: the Oakland police department is working without a contract, the schools are in receivership, and even the streets are on an 85-year resurfacing cycle. That means it might happen once in your lifetime, if you're lucky.”

This borders on the witless, if not boldly stepping over. Granted, Ms. Marinucci is no Oakland expert, her column generally concentrating on state and national politics. Still, if one is going to write about Oakland politics, one ought to at least get within shouting distance of the actual implication of the facts. And so:

1. The Oakland police department is working without a contract. True. However, the current contract expired in June of last year, meaning that if former Mayor Jerry Brown began negotiations six months in advance, which is normal, both he and Mr. Dellums have had equal time trying to work out an agreement. Why this is an indication that Mr. Dellums has “no urban policy” but does not mean the same thing for Mr. Brown is a mystery you will have to take up with Ms. Marinucci and her Chronicle colleagues (more on that point in a second). Why conducting contract negotiations while the employees continue to work under the old contract is an indication of anything other than the normal give-and-take of labor relations is a puzzlement to me as well. Meanwhile, we do know that the Dellums Administration had a breakthrough in a corollary contract issue, winning an impartial arbitrator’s ruling over the ability of the Oakland Chief of Police to assign patrol officers to 12 hour shifts.

2. The schools are in receivership. True, again, and two for two for Ms. Marinucci. However, Oakland public schools—like most schools in the State of California—operate independently of city government, so it is difficult to understand how Ms. Marinucci can conclude that this is a bad mark on Mr. Dellums. In any event, the state takeover of the Oakland public schools took place under former Mayor Jerry Brown (yes, there’s that man again) and, if you are to believe the articles by former Oakland Tribune investigative reporter Robert Gammon, with Mr. Brown’s active collusion. So again, the bad mark would seem to stick on the departed Mr. Brown rather than the present Mr. Dellums, if any bad mark need accrue. Meanwhile, after he was elected but before he was sworn in as mayor, Mr. Dellums intervened with California State Superintendent Jack O’Connell to help stop the pending sale of OUSD’s 2nd Avenue properties. The OUSD state administrator and board are now cooperating to turn part of that property into an educational center, protecting five schools from dispersal. And during his tenure, Mr. Dellums has instituted cooperation with the Oakland schools that was distinctly absent during Mr. Brown’s time in office, including proposing a joint city-school effort to put health clinics in every high school and middle school in Oakland, and using Oakland City Hall facilities to convene an OUSD teacher recruitment summit last summer in coordination with then-OUSD state administrator Kimberly Statham and Oakland Education Association (teachers union) president Betty Olsen-Jones. This seems to indicate an education policy.

3. The streets are on an 85-year resurfacing cycle. Three for three. Potholes and dilapidating streets are an increasing problem in Oakland, and we wish the city administration could (or would) do something about it. That they haven’t is a function more of a lack of available money and personnel than a lack of policy. But if this is the most Ms. Marinucci can come up, we’ll concede the point. Yes, Ron Dellums has not yet fixed Oakland’s potholes.

At the same time Ms. Marinucci is “criticizing” Mr. Dellums for an alleged lack of urban policy, my good friend, Chronicle East Bay columnist Chip Johnson, is continuing his ongoing criticism of the mayor over public safety issues, and longing for the days when he appears to believe that things were being done under the administration of Jerry Brown. Really.

In an “OK, Mayor Dellums, It's Time To Actually Do Something” column printed the same day as Ms. Marinucci’s posting, Mr. Johnson writes “One of Oakland's most prominent citizens, state Attorney General Jerry Brown, said his office would be willing to discuss [with Mr. Dellums’ office, presumably] any plan to provide resources and aid to help Oakland police take on special projects and cases. ‘If we see a plan from them, we'll listen to it,’ Brown said Thursday.”

And then in a “Hiring Cops Is A Good Start But Dellums Must Get Tough On Crime” column a week later, Mr. Johnson reiterated his suggestion that Mr. Dellums should use Mr. Brown as a public safety resource, Mr. Johnson added: “If [Mr. Dellums] wants to put a dent in crime, he's going to have to develop long-term strategies and become a crime-fighting mayor, like his predecessor.” The predecessor Mr. Johnson refers to is Jerry Brown.

This is an odd resurrection being conducted by Mr. Johnson of Jerry Brown’s Body (of work) in the field of public safety. We don’t remember Mr. Brown as a “crime-fighting mayor,” and this is the first time we can think of that term being applied to him.

We do remember Mr. Brown generating considerable publicity by calling in the police to clean up the Telegraph Avenue and 27th Street neighborhood where he and his new wife, Anne Gust, had recently moved, and once he went down to a downtown club and reportedly snatched a cellphone out of a woman’s hand during a police action. But, Perhaps Mr. Johnson can provide more details on why he believes Mr. Brown should be considered a “crime-fighting mayor.”

Finally, we seem to recall, from dim memory, that Oakland’s problems of crime and violence were virtually identical during the Brown years as they are, now, in the first year of Mr. Dellums’ tenure, leading to the conclusion that if Mr. Brown did fight crime while he was mayor of Oakland, crime won. But perhaps that’s being too flip. If so, I apologize.

In any event, why all this leads Mr. Johnson to believe that Mr. Dellums should copy the Brown public safety strategies, rather than develop and implement his own, is beyond my capabilities to understand.

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