Voters will decide powers of Oakland Police Commission: Here's how

Mayor Libby Schaaf, and Oakland Police commissioners Regina Jackson and Henry Gage fired police chief Anne Kirkpatrick. Feb. 20, 2020

Imagine a school board or a city council that didn't have a team of professional administrators, auditors or lawyers to carry out their vision and mandates. 

That's how the Oakland Police Commission, for the most part, has been operating for the last three-plus years. It's a group of unpaid volunteer citizens, all of whom have day jobs, vested with the responsibility and power of overseeing the Oakland Police Department.

Measure S1: Amending the Powers of the Police Commission on the November 3 ballot aims to change that.

Specifically, the measure seeks to add a new Office of Inspector General to investigate and review the city’s handling of police misconduct. Another big part of the measure is that this new staff would report to the Police Commission, not the city, thereby ensuring its independence. 

The measure does come at a financial cost, roughly $300,000 each year and an additional $150,000 every three years for an audit, according to the ballot measure's fiscal impact analysis. The money would be used to hire two attorneys and one administrative position; it adds the Office of Inspector General to the charter and authorizes the commission to hire legal counsel. Many of these costs are currently budgeted by the city.

By comparison, the cost of the federal oversight of the Oakland Police Department costs roughly $1 million a year, which the city has been paying since 2003. 

The Police Commission already has a lot of authority. They can revise and create police policies and practices and investigate complaints of OPD misconduct. The commission can also discipline officers and terminate the police chief for cause. 

In February, the Police Commission made headlines for firing Anne Kirkpatrick as police chief, saying she wasn't fulfilling the progressive ideals of criminal justice reform. The commission is currently looking to seek her replacement, which some say is a task made more difficult precisely because of the power the citizen commissioners wield over the chief. 

But the unpaid volunteers need more help and autonomy, supporters say. 

"The Police Commission needs professional staff to fulfill its mission," said Rashidah Grinage, a founder of the Coalition for Police Accountability, which is supporting the measure. 

That's because the longterm goal of the measure, as Grinage sees it, is to replace the nearly 20-year-old federally mandated court oversight of the Oakland Police Department, with the professional and volunteer body of the commission.

"These professionals need to be able to conduct audits and do the heavy lifting to replace the monitoring team," Grinage said.

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Other supporters include: Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb and Mariano Contreras, Reverend Dr. George Cummings, who is the director of Faith in Action East Bay and Regina Jackson, chair of the Police Commission.

The measure also has the unlikely support of the Oakland Police Officers Association. 

“The thinking is that instead of going back and forth about this and that with the commission, let’s give them everything they need,” union president Barry Donelan told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Then there will be no more excuses, and we can get on with the real business of fighting crime and protecting the real people who are affected by it.”

And the proposal has also won the endorsement of the editorial board at the Bay Area News Group.  However, the newspaper said that "while many of the changes individually make sense, they collectively create a troubling overlap of oversight that the City Council should correct where it can by eliminating duplication in the Police Department."

Mayor Libby Schaaf had originally opposed the measure, but after some "significant changes" were made, she now backs it. 

“S1 is a clean-up measure to give the Police Commission the proper authority Oaklanders intended," Schaaf said in an email to KTVU. "It will allow our citizen-led commission to continue its critical work. I support it.”

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There is no formal opposition to the measure. 

Interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer did not state her opinion on the measure but said she would uphold what the voters decide. In an email from her office requesting comment, Manheimer said:  "Every officer upholds the oath to enforce the laws and ordinances of the City of Oakland. The department will abide by the decisions made by Oakland voters in November’s election."

And while the city auditor has not lodged any formal critique of the measure, Courtney Ruby has dinged the performance of the commission, noting several problems. In a 142-page performance review made public in June, Ruby found that the commission had not fully implemented 13 key requirements and 23 additional requirements out of a total of 105. Some of her criticism centered around the fact that the commission hasn't completed all of its required training, has not established processes for evaluating the performance of the police chief and has not consistently complied with the Brown Act. 

The measure actually is an extension of a 2016 ballot measure that voters overwhelmingly approved to create the Police Commission and the Community Police Review Agency, following revelations that Oakland officers had had inappropriate sexual contact with a teenage girl.

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez