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Oakland Creates Civilian Police Oversight Commission With Subpoena Powers

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Oakland residents voted by a landslide margin of 82 percent to 18 percent in Tuesday's election to approve a measure that will establish an independent police commission to oversee the city's Police Department.

City Councilman Dan Kalb, who sponsored Measure LL along with fellow Councilman Noel Gallo, said Wednesday, "I'm happy that an overwhelming majority of our residents support police accountability and reform."

Kalb said, "This sets the table for serious analysis and reform of our Police Department."

He said, "Most police officers are very good people who are doing a very difficult job but we need improved accountability."

Kalb said he and others started working on establishing a police commission last year, before a string of police scandals this year, including sexual misconduct involving several officers and the teenage daughter of a police dispatcher, racist text message exchanges between officers and the
resignations or firings of several police chiefs.

Kalb said he didn't want to "speculate" about whether the scandals made it easier for the measure to pass.

Oakland has had a Citizens' Police Review Board since 1980, but critics have said it is understaffed and its recommendations are often ignored by city officials.

The passage of Measure LL means that board will be disbanded and its executive director will become the interim director of the Oakland Police Review Agency, which will work alongside the commission.

Mayor Libby Schaaf will select three of the commission's members and the other four will be picked by a selection committee that will be named by both Schaaf and the City Council.

Kalb said it will take about six months to get the police commission going and in the meantime the council must approve an enabling ordinance that will further spell out new policies and reforms.

He said one change will be that the Inspector General, who oversees the department's compliance with the reforms mandated by the settlement in 2003 of a police misconduct lawsuit and analyzes the department's policies and procedures, will report directly to the commission
instead of to the police chief.

Kalb said, "Structurally, the Inspector General should be outside the force looking in."

Kalb said the review agency that will work alongside the commission will have equal standing with the Police Department in imposing discipline on officers who engage in misconduct.

The measure allows the commission to fire a police chief for cause if five members agree to do so. The commission, which is expected to meet twice a month, will also have subpoena power over police records.

Before the measure was placed on the ballot, the Oakland Police Officers' Association, which represents the city's officers, had threatened to sue over changes to the police discipline process that were defined in the union's current contract, but amendments that the council made prompted the union to withdraw its opposition.

Police union president Sgt. Barry Donelan said Wednesday, "Once the council alleviated our concerns and took out the portions that threatened our due process rights we never opposed the measure."

Donelan said, "We wanted to make sure that officers get a fair hearing from the commission and that we maintain our collective bargaining rights so we can continue to engage with the city like any other union."

© Copyright 2016 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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