A few weeks ago, I arrived at the Oakland City Hall to interview Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, but found out he was in fact at the police headquarters more than 10 city blocks away. The OPD public information officer realized the mix up and offered me a ride to the police headquarters so that I could have enough time to interview the chief.
That same day, during a long City Council meeting, I was leaving out Council chambers when a resident asked me about a meeting happening concurrently in one of the ground level public meeting rooms. The resident recognized me as a reporter from Oakland Local. He said he was kicked out of the meeting room, which was filled with men who gave terse responses to his questions. He asked me to find out if those men were holding a public meeting.
I walked into the room, which is right off the main door, and the men inside fell into an instant silence. All eyes were on me. The men were all clean cut - wearing jeans, casual slacks, sporting short hair cuts. The air was very tense as one of them approached me to start walking me out the door. As I walked backward, I asked a few questions as best I could, including whether the group was Oakland police officers.
"Yes," the man said, somewhat reluctantly as he held the door open for me to leave.
Even before his response, I knew with one look that I had walked into an internal meeting of plain clothes police officers. Many I recognized from seeing them at city events over the years. Why they chose to gather in a public meeting room at City Hall I don't know.
As a journalist and resident of the city, I regularly see these two sides of theOakland Police Department. There is the Officer Friendly side where on a number of occasions, Oakland police officers have gone out of their way to help me. But too many times, usually when they don't know I'm a reporter, I've encountered hostile or indifferent police officers who act as if I am the enemy.
The double vision I encounter with OPD is something I think others see and it is something I'd like to understand.
There's no doubt that Oakland police officers are under a pressure-filled microscope. These days, not a week goes by without at least two or three negative stories about the OPD. If the news stories aren't focusing on Occupy Oakland, they are about the city's high crime rate or the strong possibility that the department will soon be taken into federal receivership.
Can the Oakland police department turn itself around? Can Chief Jordan develop a department that has strong, positive relations with Oakland's flatlands?
Those are just some of the questions I'm hoping to have answered in this latest investigative Oakland Local project that examines the culture and practices of the Oakland police department. I'm hoping to shed some important light on some of the most vexing problems facing the department. Won't you help?