Police consultant Bob Wasserman and Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan Jan. 15 in Oakland. PHOTO/Shane Bond

OAKLAND | The City Council may be willing to shell out money for a high-priced consultant to fix its crime problem, but it may not be so keen about law enforcement star William Bratton being part of the deal.

The public safety committee unanimously recommended the council approve the $250,000 contract with Bob Wasserman the city’s police consultant, but attached a caveat reserving the right to compose the members of the consulting team. The full council will hear the proposal at its next meeting, Jan. 22.

William Bratton

Although Bratton was nowhere to be seen Tuesday night, his name and reputation was on the lips of nearly everyone. After nearly five hours of public testimony focused on his role in reducing crime in Los Angeles and New York City as chief of police over the past three decades, a vast majority of speakers narrowed the conversation to alternative views of his stewardship, primarily the controversial use of “stop and frisk” to combat crime. The tactic presents great concern for many Oakland groups who fear, amid the city’s poor history of police brutality, it is not a good fit for a strategy some believes unfairly targets minorities and the youth and enflames mistrust among the citizenry and cops.

“Stop and frisk doesn’t work,” said Dan Siegel, a former legal advisor to Mayor Jean Quan. “Look at New York City. Curfews don’t work. Look at Oakland. He’s the wrong guy for Oakland. It’s bad idea to ask for his advice, but worse to give $250,000.”

While Councilmember Libby Schaaf repeatedly noted the issue of “stop and frisk” was not on Tuesday’s agenda, Bratton’s appearance on a local newscast aired Monday night where he lauded the controversial police tactic, while portraying its implementation as akin to using chemotherapy on a cancer patient, made him and comments an open target for many public speakers.

Tuesday’s meeting was also the public’s first glimpse of three new councilmember’s, Noel Gallo, Dan Kalb and Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who were elected last November and, all of which, confronted the notoriously raucous council audience with surprising poise, despite numerous interruptions, the shouting down of the police chief and, comically, a spate of caterwauling from the gallery drowning out the words of proponents of the consultant’s contract.

Protesters at Oakland City Hall before
Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee
meeting. PHOTO/Shane Bond

It was McElhaney, however, who took the first step in questioning the inclusion of Bratton in Oakland’s plan to revamp its downtrodden police force. “I wonder if his reputation is not so toxic that he cannot perform?” she said. At that point, McElhaney said would back holding the item in committee. Earlier, McElhaney noted other recent investigations into the police department’s conduct and pointedly asked Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, “How many recommendations, as chief, can you take?”

Councilmember Kalb also registered skepticism over the contract, specifically tinged with the shadow of “stop and frisk.” He initially offered an alternative motion to move the contract to the full council, but excluding a recommendation from the committee. “I don’t care if it’s Bratton, my mother,” said Kalb, “if it involves stop and frisk, I’m not going for it.” However, there was some uncertainty expressed by the assistant city attorney whether the committee could make such a recommendation under the council’s rules.

Schaaf, seeing the possibility of the item being voted down by a 2-2 tie (Gallo has long supported proactive law enforcement measures in the past) attempted to persuade her colleagues and urged them not to be distracting by “stop and frisk.” “This is our moment,” she said, while adding, “our chief has asked us to bring in these extraordinary experts.”

Gallo, aside from repeated threats to have hecklers ejected or arrested as the chair of the committee, interestingly did not pose a question Tuesday night, nor did he make any public comments.

When asked by a speaker whether any of the council members had read the actually contract proposed to the committee, Gallo and McElhaney admitted they had not while Schaaf held a loft a copy of the document, but did not say whether she had actually read it.

Jordan told the packed council chambers, he was the first to approach police consultant Bob Wasserman and his firm following a recommendation to Jordan from the chief of police in Cincinnati. Jordan also knows Wasserman from previous work done for the city surrounding community policing, he said.

After queries by Kalb and McElhaney over the need of Bratton as part of the consulting team, Wasserman said, “I think he would be an important addition to the team.” He added Bratton’s inclusion in the proposal had nothing to do with the $250,000 price tag, but was a figure offered by City Administrator Deanna Santana.

Wasserman added that Bratton is relatively new to consulting and his primarily function would revolve solely around the implementation of the team’s findings over the proposed three month time window it will need to present the city with a report. A citizen’s advisory committee would likely be formed, Wasserman said, before any ideas are moved forward. “Nothing will be implemented that does not fit the Oakland environment,” he said.