Oakland, California residents expressed their outrage at the city's hiring of a former top New York and Los Angeles 'supercop' known for bringing highly controversial 'stop-and-frisk' policing tactics to those cities.
Last month, William J. Bratton was hired by Oakland as a crime consultant, a job financed by the city's taxpayers to the tune of $250,000 per year. Oakland officials say Bratton will be paid under an agreement with Strategic Police Partnership, a company already retained by the city to study the Oakland Police Department's practices and crime reduction strategies.
Bratton served as New York City police commissioner from 1994-1996. It was during his tenure at the NYPD that he became well-known for instituting the 'broken windows' policing strategy, which focuses on low-level crimes and so-called 'quality of life' offenses. Working under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, crime dropped dramatically during Bratton's term as commissioner.
Later, Bratton served as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, a job he held from 2002-2009. He brought his 'broken windows' policing strategy west with him, and under his watch crime dropped for six straight years.
However, Bratton's policing style has been highly controversial wherever he goes. In New York, citizen complaints about police misconduct and brutality soared by 50 percent in the predominantly minority communities where the drops in crime were also the sharpest. By far, the most controversial policing tactic introduced by Bratton in both New York and Los Angeles is 'stop-and-frisk,' in which millions of mostly young, mostly minority male citizens are stopped by police solely for their appearance and subjected to what civil liberties advocates and a federal judge say are unconstitutional searches.
Under 'stop-and-frisk,' police may detain anyone they "reasonably suspect" is involved in a crime, without probable cause for arrest. In New York City in 2011, 685,724 people were stopped in this manner. More than 87 percent of them were black or Hispanic. Fully 88 percent of them were completely innocent. Furthermore, although New York state decriminalized marijuana possession in 1977, public use or display of the drug is still a crime. Oftentimes when NYPD officers detain 'suspects' for 'stop-and-frisk,' they ask them to empty their pockets. Often ignorant of the law and keen on avoiding arrest, the 'suspects' comply. If there is marijuana in their pocket, the drug is then considered to be in public view and they are arrested. This has led to New York arresting more people for marijuana offenses than any other city on earth-- 50,684 people in 2011.
"William Bratton is the mastermind of 'stop-and-frisk', which has led to the harassment of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers-- overwhelmingly Latino and black," Todd Chretien, an organizer and activist with the International Socialist Organization, told the San Francisco Chronicle. Chretien helped organize a protest at Oakland City Hall which drew hundreds of fired-up demonstrators to a Tuesday evening council meeting. The protesters are staunchly opposed to Bratton's hiring and to the aggressive 'stop-and-frisk' policing that may be accompanying his arrival.
Inside the council meeting, raucous demonstrators repeatedly voiced their disapproval of the move to hire Bratton. Incoming Councilman Noel Gallo, who has vowed to get tough on crime in the city that saw a 26 percent spike in it last year, threatened to direct officers to arrest the rowdier protesters who interrupted citizens who spoke in favor of Bratton's hiring and tactics.
Still, having been arrested before for direct action and civil disobedience, many were undaunted.
"It is a tragic mistake for the city of Oakland to continue to empty taxpayer funds into yet another short-term, ill-fated strategy to combat a problem that is rooted in economics and not a mental dysfunction," Mindy Stone, a local activist involved in the Occupy movement, told Digital Journal. "Neither William Bratton nor emptying the entire general funds into the Oakland Police Department to buy up every gun, tank, put a cop on every corner or in every school or build 20 more jails will fix this level of social decay going on in Oakland," added Stone, who lives in West Oakland, a particularly crime-ridden part of the city.
"Bratton and 'stop-and-frisk' are just another ploy to raise false promises and rob the tax base," Stone concludes.
Other Oakland residents, tired of all the crime, were more willing to give Bratton a chance, civil liberties and civil rights be damned. Longtime community policing advocate Jim Dexter told the San Francisco Chronicle that he supports the hire and wants to see more cops on the streets.
"It's a shame for this city to have a police force of 600 or less," Dexter said.
Skeptics counter that more police could lead to more brutality in a city already reeling from a series of high-profile deadly police shooting incidents, the most recent involving a young man named Alan Blueford.
Also, with the OPD having already been condemned by a federal judge for its "overwhelming military-type response" to mostly peaceful Occupy Oakland protesters in 2011 and 2012, a response which included critically wounding peaceful US war veterans, many residents feel that the first thing the city should do is ensure that police earn the trust and respect of the citizens they are paid to serve. In Oakland, that is one very tall order.