Kaplan wants clarification on who can investigate police commission

Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan said she will offer an ordinance after the holiday recess seeking to clarify whether the city administration, mayor, or even police chief can initiate investigations against sitting members of the citizen-led Oakland Police Commission.

The announcement made a during a council public safety committee meeting earlier this month follows a news report that Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick had notified several people at City Hall, including Mayor Libby Schaaf, that Oakland Police Commissioner Ginale Harris had been involved in a private dispute at her child’s school in San Francisco.

A police report on the incident was later leaked to the Oakland Internal Affairs Division, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Kirkpatrick then passed on the information to Schaaf, the city administration, and Police Commissioner Regina Jackson.

Kaplan will bring the issue back to the Public Safety Committee during its first meeting in January to clarify the process for oversight of the Police Commission. Kaplan, however, contends “there is not power of the police chief or the administrator to investigate police commissioners.”

In the past, Harris has been a vocal critic of the Oakland Police Department. During the Public Safety meeting on Dec. 3, Harris told councilmembers that her criticism has made her a target of OPD and City Hall.

She described being “viciously attacked” by Oakland’s elected leaders and police department “for standing up for what is right. For bringing things to light. They’re uncomfortable–yes–but that’s my job as a police commissioner,” Harris said. “This leadership body has created a hostile environment for me and I don’t even get paid to do this job,” she added.

Jackson, who chairs the Police Commission, believes Harris is the victim of smear campaign by some city officials to discredit her criticism against OPD. “This treatment is because she’s a whistleblower. She just says it out loud,” Jackson said. She’s not going to stop. We’re not going to stop. But this is an effort to smear her, to embarrass her, to put her business in the street.”

Maureen Benson, a former member of the Police Commission, who resigned last February in protest of City Hall and OPD’s meddling in the formation of the oversight group, said the council needs to better protect commissioners. “The citizens of Oakland are not going to believe this a safe commission to serve on if we don’t put protections in place for different citizens,” Benson said.