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The Oakland Police Officers Association and OPD's official spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Although actual incidents of police officers being harmed or harassed in or near their homes is rare, Sandra Bass of the Packard Foundation, who closely studied Oakland police in the 1990s, agreed that concerns over personal safety has long been a reason cited by cops as to why they don't live in the city they serve. "When I was studying the OPD, officers feared being harassed, or having their families being harassed, either in a threatening way, or such that they never could truly be 'off duty' because neighbors would engage them about issues," said Bass, who also has provided testimony to the US Civil Rights Commission on police accountability.
Rhina Ramos, the director of programs at the Ella Baker Center, said she understands why certain officers would choose to live outside Oakland, but balked at the extremely high number of those who do. "I can understand certain visible law officers, those who work high risk units not wanting to be here when off-duty, but more than 90 percent of the total force, regular patrol cops? I think they would actually benefit from living here by forging human connections to the city's communities and really getting to know the people that they're sworn to serve and protect. They would understand Oakland from the inside."
Whatever its underlying reasons and effects on the city, OPD's constitution as a force of non-Oaklanders is not likely to change anytime soon. Most of the applicants for OPD's three upcoming police academies hail from outside of Oakland, despite Mayor Quan and Police Chief Howard Jordan's assertions that they are working to increase local recruitment.
Of the 2,363 applicants who applied for a spot in the next three police academies, only 267, or 11 percent, are Oakland residents. The rest predominantly hail from cities where African Americans account for a much smaller portion of the population. For example, three of the top cities where OPD recruits live are San Jose, San Francisco, and Concord, and blacks only make up only 3, 6, and 6 percent of the population in each of those cities, respectively.
While blacks account for about 28 percent of Oakland's population, only 20 percent of OPD academy recruits are black. Whites are over-represented among OPD applicants in proportion to the city's current population. The differences between communities from which OPD recruits officers and the Oakland communities they patrol are equally stark in socioeconomic terms. Average family incomes in Oakland's flatlands are much lower than even the poorest neighborhoods in affluent cities like Pleasanton and San Ramon. Towns like Fairfield, Danville, and Livermore, where many OPD officers are recruited from and choose to live while on the force, have small immigrant populations, certainly nothing approaching Oakland's diversity and size.
Wilson Riles Jr., who served on the Oakland City Council from 1978 until 1992, believes the department's failure to find sufficient recruits from within city limits is due to intransigence from OPD's veteran core. This internal resistance is, in turn, rooted in historical recruiting policies that purposefully drew officers from far outside Oakland.
In fact, OPD's fractious relations with the city's African-American community go back much further than the commonly known tensions with the militant Black Panther Party in the Sixties and Seventies. During the Second World War, Oakland experienced a tremendous influx of African Americans who came in search of work in the munitions and shipbuilding industries supplying the Pacific theater of World War II. "At the same time, the city started recruiting additional police officers in order to deal with this new African-American population coming out of the South, and they specifically only recruited whites from the South to come and work in the Oakland Police Department," Riles noted.
The result was a police department that treated black Oaklanders with such bias and contempt that a 1950 investigation by the California State Assembly's Interim Committee on Crime and Corrections condemned OPD for systematically brutalizing and violating the rights of local African Americans. C.L. Dellums, uncle of former Mayor Ron Dellums, famously explained to the committee's members, "generally, Negroes regard the police as their natural enemies."
Chris Rhomberg, a Yale University sociologist who studies mid-20th-century Oakland politics, characterized OPD's operations as "a discriminatory pattern of police violence, which effectively constituted a form of official social control in the ghetto." In 1966, the US Commission on Civil Rights convened yet another hearing in Oakland where black and Latino community members vented against what they called systemic "police intimidation and excessive force."
Despite the findings of various official investigations, city leaders did little to address the department's institutionalized racism and lack of consequences for officer mistreatment of black and immigrant Oaklanders until 2000. That year, rookie Officer Keith Batt blew the whistle on four colleagues, dubbed "The Riders," who allegedly robbed, beat, and framed West Oakland residents. Two separate criminal prosecutions of three of The Riders failed to produce convictions in Alameda County, while the fourth cop, Officer Frank Vasquez, fled to Mexico and is still wanted by the FBI as a fugitive from justice. However, Oakland taxpayers paid out $10.5 million in settlements to The Riders' victims and agreed to a program of court-ordered reforms that ostensibly would prevent a recurrence of such misconduct.
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