Oakland mayoral candidate Joe Tuman addresses voters during a candidate’s forum Wednesday at Laney College. PHOTO/STEVEN TAVARES

OAKLAND | MAYOR | Ten of the 17 current candidates for the Oakland mayoral race met at Laney College this week. Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember Libby Schaaf made brief appearances before leaving for previous engagements. The absence of the incumbent and one of the front runners, though, may have allowed some breathing room for the other candidates in what became a spirited and race-defining forum on jobs and crime and exactly how many police officers Oakland needs to quell a perception of lawlessness.

Dan Siegel ponders how many cops does 
Oakland need as Shake Anderson, Joe
Tuman and Courtney Ruby look on.

Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris moderated the mayoral forum Wednesday evening in a slight different fashion than other forums in recent months. After posing questions pre-written and some from the audience, the second hour of the forum allowed Burris, also a well-known as a cable news television personality, to randomly pose his own questions with follow ups while reeling in other members of the panel to compare and contrast their stances.

The debate on public safety, inevitably the defining subject of this November mayoral race, flourished under this line of questioning starting with Burris’s colleague, Dan Siegel. “We’ve got to focus on jobs. The best program for a safe city is not more cops. I’m sorry, there’s no proof that 900 or a thousand or 1,500 cops will make Oakland safer and we can’t afford them anyway,” said Siegel. The statement would make for the loudest applause line of the night.

Burris then pulled Joe Tuman into the debate. The university professor, who is making the need for more cops again the centerpiece of his campaign, acknowledged the applause. “I want you to think about the logic of that for a moment,” said Tuman, while noting the past work by Burris and Siegel in suing the police department for civil rights abuses. “I understand the contentious relationship, that’s why John and Dan got a lot of work over the last couple of years between the police department and residents of our community. But to go from that to a statement–which, to be honest with you–is a little irresponsible, the police don’t matter and if you just give jobs to people everybody will just behave in a civil way and you’ll never have problems is not reality.”

Tuman later recounted the assault of his son in Oakland last summer while helping a friend. “There were no police around,” said Tuman. After chasing the mugger for six blocks, he said his son was beaten with a brick. “Cops do matter,” Tuman added before being interrupted by Burris. “If you have police officers who project a visible presence you discourage people from making bad choices and encourage them to make good choices.”

“I think the answer is truthfully somewhere between Dan and Joe,” said Bryan Parker, another candidate whose mayoral platform revolves around public safety. “I don’t think these are mutually exclusive options. Certainly we need more police.” Doing show would project a sense of safety for residents and value in the tax dollars working toward that goal, said Parker “This is about poverty. This is about economic inequality and having more access to jobs. And a person pulling their way out of poverty has a direct correlation with the reduction of crime.” The police department needs to better utilize technology as a “force multiplier” for more efficient with the limited resources, he added.

Siegel quickly rose from his seat to respond to his opponents. Police should protect property, people’s lives and their constitutional rights, said Siegel. “There is probably nothing that is more disgraceful about Oakland city government, and those who have been a part of this, that for 12 years we have been under a federal court’s consent agreement,” said Siegel. “It’s an incredible disgrace that city leaders have not been able to find a police chief who will keep officers under control and the tens of millions of dollars we spent on police abuse settlements and judgments.” Siegel said he would immediately hire a police chief who would end the consent decree within his first year in office.

Just how many more cops does Oakland need is of much debate, especially for some candidates advocating for as many as 300 hundred more officers, while acknowledging a lack of money to fund the large increase. “How many cops do we need?” asked Siegel. “People throw out these numbers that are completely arbitrary, have no basis in fact.”