San Francisco Chronicle

Council delays police academy

More time to review hiring amid scandal

- By Rachel Swan

Reeling from the meltdown of its Police Department and questions over screening and training methods for new recruits, the Oakland City Council has agreed with Mayor Libby Schaaf to delay the launch of a police academy that would have started in February.

Instead, the academy will begin in May — at the earliest — to give the city an opportunit­y to finish an audit of the department’s hiring and recruiting practices. Questions over those practices arose in the wake of police scandals that have shaken up the department and that involve some of the officers hired

within the past few years.

“I think we all know that (this) is very necessary,” said Councilwom­an Annie Campbell Washington, who made the motion to support the delay at a City Council meeting that began Tuesday night and ended after midnight.

Despite the concerns, Oakland is moving forward with two other police academies that were already budgeted for this year. Last month, the mayor proposed adding a third to begin in February, then revised the proposal last week to request the delay.

Officials are grappling with a spate of disciplina­ry cases, involving mostly young recruits. Several were put on leave as a result of a sexual misconduct investigat­ion centered on a teen prostitute. Some face charges for separate incidents: One officer was arrested in February for pulling a gun on a house painter, and another was charged with four misdemeano­rs for an alleged drunken assault on a woman outside her home.

Three councilmem­bers were so disenchant­ed with the police force that they pushed their colleagues to eliminate the February academy altogether — a plan that would have saved $3.1 million while significan­tly reducing Oakland’s police staff and hurting the city’s chances of getting a $2 million federal grant for police services.

Councilwom­an Desley Brooks, who co-authored that plan with Councilwom­an Rebecca Kaplan and Councilman Noel Gallo, blamed Schaaf ’s police hiring goals for the recent scandals.

“We are in a crisis right now, a crisis that was created because the mayor is bent on getting to 800 police officers,” Brooks said, insisting that the council should focus on “quality, not quantity” in its police force.

She and her two colleagues wanted to grant the $3.1 million in savings to various community groups and services and set aside $600,000 to improve hiring practices at the Police Department.

Their proposal garnered support from a small but vocal group of antipolice activists in Oakland, some of whom have advocated for the mayor’s dismissal.

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney also supported eliminatin­g the February academy.

“I think it’s completely realistic to think about public safety in a more holistic way, rather than just hiring officers,” McElhaney said at the council meeting.

But Brooks, Kaplan and Gallo’s plan failed to get a majority vote from the council, and at least one Oakland resident criticized it for decreasing the number of police officers in a city that has long struggled to fight crime.

Striking the February academy would mean cutting Oakland’s police force from its current 774 officers to 761 officers by the end of 2017, according to City Administra­tor Sabrina Landreth. Public safety advocate Bruce Nye argued at the council meeting that the cuts would likely be even more severe, considerin­g how many officers could leave as a result of the current investigat­ions.

“This is a very difficult time to be standing up and defending the importance of police in this city,” Nye said at the meeting. “Nonetheles­s we have to look at the history here, and the history shows us that when the number of police goes down, the crime goes up.”

Nye also urged councilmem­bers not to use the chaos in Oakland’s Police Department as a means to further their own political agendas — Kaplan and Brooks have both at times butted heads with Schaaf.

Councilman Dan Kalb, who supported delaying the academy, said it would be rash for the council to get rid of the February academy altogether.

“We’re going to do the academy eventually. We certainly need to,” Kalb said at the meeting.

Campbell Washington shared those sentiments.

“We all know that we have an incredibly embarrassi­ng, horrific situation in the Police Department with some individual officers who engaged in the sexual exploitati­on of a minor,” she said. “We are all horrified by that, (but) I hope we do not make decisions about general policy ... based on this horrific situation.”

The council split evenly on Brooks, Kaplan and Gallo’s proposal, so Schaaf cast the deciding vote to defeat it. The council then voted 6-2 to delay the start of the academy by at least three months.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the mayor commended the council for “helping us move forward.”

“Oakland cannot afford to backslide when it comes to safety,” the mayor said. She said that any inconsiste­ncies in the city’s hiring of police would undermine the gains that Oakland has made.

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