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Oakland hires former LA police chief as consultant to battle crime

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POSTED January 23, 2013 7:23 p.m.


OAKLAND (AP) — Despite hundreds voicing opposition, the Oakland City Council early Wednesday overwhelmingly approved hiring former New York City police commissioner and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton as a police consultant.

The council's 7-1 vote shortly after 2 a.m. came after a nine hour-plus meeting that included more than four hours of public comment against and in favor of the regarded international expert known for reducing crime and improving community relations with police.

Police Chief Howard Jordan and Mayor Jean Quan say high-profile Bratton is expected to help develop a crime-fighting plan with community input for the city that last year had its violent crime rate jump 23 percent and 131 homicides, the highest total since 2006.

And a majority of the council agreed with the chief and the mayor— despite the scores of vocal objections — and formally approved a $250,000 contract for Bratton's expertise. Their decision was met with choruses of boos and chants including "shame on you!"

"I'm going to support our police chief, that's his business," newly elected Council Member Noel Gallo said. "He is in the law enforcement business. I am not. Council members are not and we're not experts. I'm going to rely on him."

But many at the meeting expressed outrage, worried Bratton will suggest a controversial stop-and-frisk policy. The practice allows police to stop, question and pat down anyone who appears suspicious.

Critics say that it could lead to widespread racial profiling and civil rights violations.

"We keep talking about solving crime, but we're not talking about what causes crime," said Cat Brooks, a longtime community organizer who said she lived in Los Angeles when Bratton was that city's police chief.

"Poverty causes crime, hunger causes crime, isolation and having a poor education causes crime," Brooks said. "Bratton is not going to solve any of those problems. He is not going to end violence in Oakland."

Council Member Desley Brooks, the lone dissenting vote, echoed similar sentiments.

"A vote against this contract tonight is not about not being serious about crime. It's about we need to do the real work. The real work to address crime in this community," she said.

Bratton, who is expected to start next month, will be joining noted police strategist Bob Wasserman, head of the Boston-based Strategic Policy Partnership, who also has consulted many of the nation's biggest cities on policing.

They will report to Jordan, Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana. Wasserman, who began in September, has already been conducting a "top-to-bottom" review of the department.

Bratton was New York's police commissioner from 1994 to 1996 and the Los Angeles police chief from 2002 to 2009. He's widely credited with significantly reducing crime in both cities by double-digit percentages. In Los Angeles, he focused on community policing and worked to resolve tensions between officers and minority communities.

He is credited with co-creating Compstat, the innovative crime-mapping system used in Oakland that uses computer data to direct police to specific high-crime areas. Police in neighboring San Francisco credit the system with helping that city reach near-record-low crime levels.

But Bratton also helped implement the New York City's controversial stop-and-frisk policy that experts say helped overall crime dropped dramatically.

Bratton defended the measure during an interview with KPIX-TV last week.

"I'm sorry that any police department in America that tries to function without some form of stop and frisk, or whatever terminology they use, is doomed to fail," Bratton said. "For any city to say they don't do stop and frisk, I'm sorry, they don't know what the hell they're talking about."

Before approving Bratton's contract Wednesday, the Oakland City Council added an amendment stating that policies from the consultants will not allow for any racial profiling.

"The reason why I'm not afraid of a boogeyman called Bratton is that we have tremendous community oversight," new Council Member Lynette Gibson McElhaney said.

Bratton's hiring was also supported by many local religious leaders as dozens from their congregations attended the lengthy meeting.

Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church, who has publicly demanded that Quan urge Gov. Jerry Brown to declare Oakland a state of emergency because of the escalating violence, is among the supporters.

"If Bill Bratton can bring the kind of help that our police department needs to make our streets safer so that black boys and brown boys are not dying in our streets anymore, than I say 'Amen,'" Jackson told KTVU-TV.

But Cat Brooks, the community organizer, ripped the council and accused them of trying to cause division between the church and community over Bratton's hiring.

"We need a comprehensive plan to address crime in Oakland that goes beyond the police and the council, that includes the community and every single voice in here, including those who are actually in these streets... suffering," she said.


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