So what can we do about the police?

Dellums promised during his State of the City address that we would be at 803 officers by the end of the year. Whether we can do that is the question of the week, I guess. I explained on Novometro Wednesday why this is impossible, and wrote about again here yesterday. Apparently the plan is to take Measure Y money to pay for special Sheriff’s Academies, which really isn’t what that money is supposed to be for, but I suppose if it gets more police on the streets, most people will be willing to overlook that. Lenore Anderson, apparently confused as to what it means to add officers to the force, assured the Trib that it was possible, and that “getting civilians to do desk work [was] crucial.” Stephen Buel, editor of the more-anemic-by-the-week East Bay Express, wants to know what we would even do with 803 officers (I don’t know, Steve. Put a Problem Solving Officer in every beat like we’re supposed to and respond to calls for service in a more timely manner, maybe?). Disturbingly, the Mayor’s office apparently only began to put together their recruitment package on Tuesday, and now says that it “could go to the City Council for approval as soon as February.” A post from someone who recently went through the hiring process has been circulating on Oakland listservs, and his experience does not make him optimistic:

That all being said – one of the reasons that the OPD will NEVER meet their recruiting goal is that the recruiting office seems to be, for the most part, horribly run. I did deal with some amazing people there, but in general I’d say the hiring process at the Ben & Jerry’s in Jack London square where I worked in high school was more professional.

During my application process I was sent THREE rejection letters in error – one of which was actually an envelope addressed to me containing a letter addressed to another candidate. I had the location of my polygraph changed from near the Oakland Airport to somewhere out past the tunnel on the day of the exam – thankfully I am from Oakland and could borrow a car from a family member to make it.

Gee. Do I do anything but complain anymore? This blog has been a real downer this week, and for that, I apologize. My efforts to place a reality check on the plans and promises of elected officials can often lead to a situation where the blog starts looking like nothing more than a place to bitch and moan. That was never my intention, so I’m going to at least try to start moving in a more constructive direction over the next week or two. Because there are things we can do. We can employ technology to better deploy officers. We can widen our applicant pool. We can put our recruiting dollars to better use. We can make the department a more attractive place to work.

So what would I like to see from the Mayor’s office when that recruitment strategy comes out? Okay, number one – a new police chief. Tucker has to go. He just does. His repeated assurances this week that we will have a fully staffed police force by the end of the year, a literal impossibility in the face of the time it takes to train an officer, mean one of two things – either he is lying so people will stop bothering him (never a good sign), or worse, he understands so little about the hiring process in his own department that he actually doesn’t know this is impossible. Either scenario is unacceptable. This isn’t the first time he’s been out of touch. In October of 2006, he assured the Chronicle that he would be able to fully staff the department by January 31, 2007.

The man is uninspiring, and that’s being kind. He commands a department with a dire morale problem, so much so than on a typical day, only 6 out of every 10 expected officers (PDF!) even show up for work. His department is uncooperative with the City Council, frequently complaining when the Council asks for updates on their recruitment strategies and hiring progress, and whining incessantly (PDF!) that the shouldn’t have to be giving the Council monthly updates and begging to switch to only quarterly reports.

So, of course, we sort of just got Tucker. Who are we going to replace him with? Well, in my dreams, we would take that $6 million that Tucker wants to use to fund these special academies that we probably won’t even be able to fill, and use it to buy ourselves a celebrity police chief. Hey – why not? We’re on our second celebrity mayor, we’ve got celebrity wanna-be developers, and while I admit that not all of those things have worked out that well, I remain convinced that everything would be so much better here in Oakland if we could just bribe William Bratton, the man who cleaned up New York and LA, into coming here and saving us.

Okay, I think this guy really does have an S on his chest. Under Bratton’s leadership, crime in Los Angeles plummeted. Between his 2002 appointment and 2006, violent crime decreased 34%. For 2007, Los Angeles reported a 37-year low in the number of homicides and formerly violence-plagued neighborhoods are well, not cleaned up entirely, but are at much better. He also managed to improve officer morale and raise the public image of the police department*:

Equally important, LAPD watchers said, is that he managed a balancing act that had eluded previous chiefs: maintaining the support of rank-and-file officers while also gaining trust from longtime LAPD critics. He pressed the flesh at barbershops, churches and community events, using the chief’s position as a bully pulpit to take on gang members, politicians and others with whom he disagreed — even if he had to apologize later.

“He’s the right leader at the right time,” said Police Commission President John Mack, who as the former head of the L.A. Urban League was a vocal critic of Los Angeles Police Department practices.

This isn’t to say LAPD has no problems. The department has been heavily criticized for use of excessive force at a May Day event in MacArthur Park and there have been complaints that a byproduct of the department’s successful campaign to clean up skid row was displacement of homeless and mentally ill residents. Still, I’d feel a lot safer walking around there than I do here.

Okay, given that Bratton just renewed a five year contract with LAPD and is rumored to be in line for a federal post should a Democrat take the White House, my little fantasy is probably about as likely as Ron Dellums’s promise to fully staff the police force by the end of the year. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find a seed of a workable plan somewhere in my dream. We could follow the Mesa, AZ model and look to Bratton’s LAPD proteges in our search.

We could also copy his methods. First, LAPD employs a sophisticated crime-tracking statistical program called CompSTAT:

And there are significant differences between north and south in police strategy, particularly in the use of CompStat, a computer crime-tracking program favored by L.A. Police Chief William J. Bratton.

“When you ask what is the current state of criminal activity, [Bratton] can pull out his BlackBerry and cite the crime rate within the last week,” state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said last month, during the swearing-in ceremony for Bratton’s second term.

“There are very few police chiefs in the United States who can do that,” Brown said. “And for that reason, Los Angeles has experienced a dramatic reduction in crime that unfortunately contrasts with Oakland and San Francisco and several other cities.”

And Bratton isn’t the only one working on his Blackberry. Everyone uses the technology:

Charlie Beck [South Bureau department chief], 54, has walked scores of blood-spattered homicide scenes this year.

“I don’t go there to deal with the homicide,” he said. “I go there to stop the next one.”

He fiddles with his Blackberry, which buzzes every few minutes, updating him on crime scenes. Data from each crime are plugged into a computer system that allows officials to look for patterns and study the department’s effectiveness.

Cops now call gang intervention workers, often former gang members, to work the scene at a homicide and help the officers prevent retaliatory gunfire.

So far this year, homicides in Los Angeles are down about 17%, compared with last year. The number of shooting victims is down by 14%. Overall violent crime — including rape, robbery and assault — is down 8%.

The department is also employing emerging technologies in new patrol cars. Even in the face of outdated radio equipment, the department is managing to employ technology in a way that allows them to constantly re-assess their needs.

In contrast, the Oakland Police Department cannot even provide accurate crime numbers to the City Council when asked. In September, the Public Safety Committee asked OPD to bring them a report detailing robbery and burglary statistics and clearance rates. In November, the department delivered a short and vague report (PDF!) that did not provide nearly all the information the Committee asked for, and at the meeting, an OPD representative stood up and told the Committee that the numbers in their report were wrong, and he didn’t even know where those totals came from! (Allegedly, the department will be providing an accurate report in February.) City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente has been pushing for a CompStat-like system in Oakland and using more data analysis to allocate resources. It would be nice to see Dellums get behind this one.

Aside from the use of CompStat, here are some things that LAPD has done that I find commendable. In the face of a nationwide police recruit shortage and massive retirements, they have been able to successfully increase the size of their force. Between July 2005 and November 9 2007, LAPD’s officer total rose from 9,181 officer to 9,517.

Under Bratton, LAPD has made aggressive recruitment efforts. Here are some things they and other departments are doing that we could copy:

  • Expand the recruitment area and bribe people with our nice city. Okay, OPD has done some out of state recruitment, and does offer a somewhat expedited testing process for out of state recruits, but they are certainly not capitalizing on the possibility of out of state recruits like our neighbors to the south. At the beginning of 2007, the department still listed “Recruit Oakland first” (PDF!) as one of their 3 primary recruitment objectives. In November, they continued to report (PDF!) an “Oakland First” priority and focus on Bay Area candidates. Here’s San Diego Police Chief Bill Lasdowne on their strategy:

    This winter, we’ll be on the East Coast, when there’s six feet of snow out there, showing the coast of San Diego and people who will be surfing. This summer, when it’s 115 degrees in Arizona, we’ll be recruiting there, because our temperature will stay around 82 degrees. This is a great environment to work in and a great police department to be on.

    In 2000, LAPD began administering written applicant testing outside of California, and offered relocation bonuses to distant officers who moved to LA to join the force.

  • Assist borderline recruits with pre-Academy training. Dellums said in his State of the City address that he was going to do this. I hope he does. It’s a good idea. Of course, he also promised during his campaign that he was going to “strengthen existing Peralta Community College programs by collaborating with the Police Department to make Peralta a gateway for the recruitment, training, and hiring of police officers living in Oakland” and 18 months later, this is the first time we’ve heard another word about it. OPD told the Council’s Public Safety Committee (PDF!) last February that:

    Development of a pre-academy physical fitness program is near completion…This program…will assist to increase candidate yield by demonstrating OPD’s commitment to candidates, while also decreasing academy failure due to fitness issues.

    Let’s hope it actually happens this time.

  • Hiring bonuses! Hiring bonuses are an excellent one-time incentive employed regularly in the private sector to sweeten job offers. The City Council has been talking about offering hiring bonuses to college graduates (PDF!) who join the force. Why just college graduates? Ignacio De La Fuente suggested a hiring bonus as part of an incentive package back in September, but nothing seems to have come of it.
  • Employ more cost-efficient recruiting strategies. In a report to the City Council (PDF!) last March, OPD broke down where applicants within the last two months said they had learned about OPD recruitment. The answers: Internet – 1735, Print Media – 512, Referrals – 950, Radio – 62, TV – 280. So what does the department do? Decides to spend more money on radio and TV advertising (PDF!), placing ads on the Oakland Raiders flagship radio station and KTVU and KICU. Why?

Finally, I highly recommend watching the TagamiVision interview with OPOA president Bob Valladon. One thing he identifies as a factor in OPD’s morale problem is the lack of opportunities to showcase the good things Oakland police officers do for the community:

Everything you see in the news, most of the things you see in the news, you see in the newspaper, are negative against the Oakland police department – be it the Oakland officers, be it the union. Always because that’s headline. That’s what you always see. That’s what Channel 2, Channel 4, Channel 5, Channel 7, that’s what they always put on there. And they never show the things where we’re out there pulling people out of vehicles, you know, burning vehicles. Or vehicle collisions, helping the little old person trying to get out of that car. Or going in and handling ten family fights in one day and nobody got hurt handling that stuff. You don’t see the every day work that an Oakland police officer does. And I think that we need something like that to let the residents see that we are great people.

Now as much as I sympathize with the the Valladon’s frustrations here, I also don’t think it’s the media’s job to act as a PR vehicle for OPD. Everyday work doesn’t make headlines because it isn’t news. It’s everyday work. Now, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way for OPD to get that information out there.

One possible way would be to, like LAPD, publish a blog. Okay, obviously I like blogs probably more than the next person. But hear me out! The blog provides notes from police commission meetings, provides a weekly running total of annual crime statistics comparing the current year-to-date numbers with the previous year’s, posts information about recent crimes, and also provides a place to inform residents about commendable, everyday work from LAPD officers. I applaud the effort of LAPD to provide a forum where they can directly engage with residents and share information.

So those are a few of my somewhat random ideas. Check back next week for more, and also, how to pay for all this.

* I apologize that these LA Times links are not freely accessible. The LA Times doesn’t provide free archives, and OPL doesn’t provide access to ProQuest Newsstand. However, SFPL does, and all California residents are allowed an SFPL card. So you can get one of those and you’ll have access. That’s the best I can do.