As published in the Oakland Tribune, January 19, 2005

My Word

By Jay Gaskill


The CITY of Oakland needs a top cop who has the blunt honesty to say it like it is and the stature to be heeded.

At least half of leadership is “followship”. Not only should the hard working men and women of OPD be able to respect and follow their new Chief, all of the key Oakland city officials, including this mayor, his successor, the city manager and all council members should trust their new Chief as messenger.

Any new Chief worth hiring will soon learn and tell the following essential facts to all those who are ready to listen:

MOST OPD cops are honest and good at what they do.

Even after the additional funding recently approved by Oakland voters, there are still too few funded police officer positions, given a crime demographic that includes thousands of recidivist-prone former inmates of state prison who are living in Oakland under – let’s just face it – inadequate supervision.

Overtime by badge officers in any high crime urban area like Oakland can be slightly mitigated but never eliminated – unless we give up on the battle against street criminals. Thugs are “on the job” 24/7 and could not care less about police staffing and scheduling problems.

Crime waves perversely tend to come at times that overtax scheduled beat officers, hence the necessity to call others to duty, hence the requirement to pay them for overtime. The alternative would be to slightly overstaff. Not a chance of that.

Because OPD is still understaffed, the Chief will have to explore new ways of doing business. Every change in the normal way of doing business coming from the Chief’s office must be taken seriously.

Every proposal, from video surveillance in public places to contracting out some of the department’s tasks, will meet with opposition. In these struggles, the new Chief deserves support from the city at all levels.

As OPD’s Chief, the city needs a tough minded law enforcement professional focused on one task: throttling the crime problem in Oakland. The new Chief should have a track record of getting results and should have no fear where politicians and city bureaucrats are concerned. Oakland cannot afford a top cop who can be silenced or bullied by anyone. This means that politicians and bureaucrats will need to put egos and other agendas aside in order to let this law enforcement professional do the job.

The new chief will need to think regionally. The OPD Chief must have (or quickly develop) trust relationships with all the other law enforcement agencies in the neighborhood. Chief Word was able to do more about Oakland’s crime problems than anyone had the right to expect because OPD got actual, concrete assistance from the Sheriff’s Department and CHP forces.

These “badges on loan” performed significant law enforcement functions that had been within Oakland’s charge. This was no small accomplishment and it proved two things: adding more law enforcement personnel, appropriately deployed, does control crime; and OPD was so seriously understaffed that outside help was desperately needed.

The qualities needed in then new Chief can’t be quantified in some arbitrary rating system. Just one gut-check question sums it up: If “X” were chief and you lived in a dangerous Oakland neighborhood, would you feel safer? Everything else is secondary.

Jay B. Gaskill was the County Public Defender from1989 to1999.

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