Council must stop using police as political targets
By Barry Donelan
On Monday, Oakland police alumna Danielle Outlaw began her new job as Philadelphia police commissioner. She takes over America’s fourth largest police force, with over 6,500 cops. But Outlaw’s law enforcement career started here, serving the citizens of Oakland for almost two decades.
Outlaw was not the only recent Oakland police success story. Last month, Capt. Sekou Millington left to become police chief in Tracy. And, among rank-and-file officers, Freddy Williams received a prestigious Jefferson Award for public service. Williams not only serves on the streets of Oakland, but he volunteers mentoring children of incarcerated parents.
These stories epitomize the dedication and professionalism of the women and men serving as Oakland police officers. But these successes stand in contrast to the portrayal of Oakland’s finest by some members of the City Council.
Police officers are on the front lines dealing with Oakland’s rising crime, an opioid epidemic that has officers administering Narcan for overdoses in the field, and a homeless crisis that everyone talks about, but Oakland police officers are dispatched to.
Twenty years ago, when I graduated from the Oakland Police Academy, the force was 739 strong; today that number is 729. Crime rose in 2019, but Oakland, for the first time in five years, ended the year with fewer officers than it started.
After Oakland’s 75th homicide of 2019, at Starbucks in Montclair, the local council member’s reaction was to declare that she had no interest in politicizing the death of her constituents. But Council member Sheng Thao’s parochial response was to call for the police to remain in one police area and not respond to residents in other areas of the city calling for help.
Oakland elected officials side with vocal anti-police factions to blame police officers for every ill. Yet they ignore the impacts of their own policy decisions.
Oakland police officers led the way in implementing solutions to Oakland’s long-term financial retiree health liabilities. Our decisions helped improve the city’s credit rating, saving the city hundreds of millions of dollars. The council responded by providing retroactive tax cuts to multimillion- dollar marijuana operations.
As officers struggled with surging crime, this council’s response was a policy, opposed by the Police Department, to protect convicted criminals from the police. When officers are ordered to conduct sideshow enforcement operations, this council criticizes the cost and bemoans the impacts of car stops on individuals who do not live in Oakland but come to our city and put lives at risk.
Oakland police officers are hardworking, committed public servants. They are serving in an understaffed police department that is struggling with crime. Nevertheless, outside of Oakland, we are lauded for our professionalism and innovation.
Oakland police officers outpace other law enforcement agencies in implementing advanced constitutional policing policies and set a national standard in advancing police reforms and accountability. Although we continue to learn from missteps, unlike the Oakland City Council, we own our mistakes and strive to improve.
Oakland’s council members should stop blaming police and consider working with them. Council members should consider listening to the police officers who respond to our residents’ calls for help. Only by working together can we address the public safety problems of our city.
Barry Donelan is a sergeant with the Oakland Police Department and president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association.
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