Police watchdogs complain OPD, sheriff too 'militarized'
OAKLAND, Calif. - Oakland is moving toward a new policy on how police use such equipment as tear gas, battering rams, and sniper rifles.
Police watchdogs have long complained the department is too "militarized."
And on Thursday, the Oakland Police Commission heard from one of the homeless mothers who occupied a vacant Oakland house until their court-ordered eviction last month.
"It caused us a lot of trauma," said Dominque Walker of Moms 4 Housing, describing the riot-clad deputies, SWAT, and armored Bearcat vehicles that descended on the house. "There were robots, there were drones, battering rams and tanks, there were AR-15's, for moms and babies."
The Alameda County Sheriff's Office, which carries out court-ordered evictions, owns four Bearcats. The Oakland Police Department has one.
Many law enforcement agencies say nothing surpasses the vehicle for protecting officers - and the public- amid gunfire.
But watchdog groups say Oakland's criteria for deploying the Bearcat is murky.
Instead of critical incidents, they believe it's used to intimidate.
"The department rolls this out about twice a week in East Oakland," said Rashida Grinage, of the Coalition for Police Accountability. "They look like an occupying army in a neighborhood, it's just overkill."
Critics point to the shooting death two years ago, of Joshua Pawlik, a homeless man who had a gun but was passed out in a West Oakland yard. Oakland officers used the Bearcat as a perch to open fire.
Oakland police oversight board wants stricter rules on militarized equipment
"To have someone who is not even conscious being fired on is not defensible," said Grinage.
A draft resolution by the Police Commission would require police to create a "use policy" on militaristic equipment, and provide annual data on how it is used, and the outcomes.
"To begin with, I think there's a lack of trust in the community," said Oakland City Council member Noel Gallo.
Oakland Police Commission rejects 2nd Bearcat
As chairman of the city's public safety committee, Gallo believes there must be a balance between restraint and crime fighting.
"Do I need to have tanks moving up and down the street ?" he posed. "We have all the respect for law enforcement but in terms of the tools that are used, there's a great debate going on."
OPD data obtained by 2 Investigates shows Oakland rolls out its Bearcat four times as often as San Francisco.
A decision on Oakland reforms is expected within the next few months, resting with the full City Council.