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The People's Police Department

Why federal consent decrees are working in Detroit, but not in Oakland.

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In sum, Detroit PD may not be a perfect department, but there's no doubt that residents are benefitting from the reforms made in recent years. Meanwhile, OPD's struggles have exacted a huge financial and social toll on the city.

"Our resources have been frittered away — $58 million in lawsuits, millions and millions in monitors and consultants fees, not to mention the $8 million in overtime," noted Grinage of PUEBLO. "I mean, it's a miracle that there is any money left in this city for anything else, and the question is: What are we getting in return? We are not safer, we are not a better police department, we are still not compliant, we still have police shootings, we still have officers drawing their weapons at an alarming rate, so where is the gain from all of this? What could Oakland have done with all of that money? How many jobs could have been created, how many schools could have been repaired, how many mentors could we have had for kids? When you think about the resources that have been wasted, it is outrageous."


OPD's future is precarious. The seemingly most plausible outcome is federal receivership, meaning that the US government would step in and take control of the department. No other police force has been federalized, so it's uncertain exactly what this would look like, but most agree that it could cost the city a lot of money. Earlier this year, Jim Chanin told me that the idea of incurring more debt for Oakland was the only thing preventing him from requesting federal receivership.

Lord knows they deserve it," he said of the police department. "But what libraries are going to close? What recreation centers are going to close — because of the money for the receiver? It's just a matter of balancing the equities and trying to figure out what the right thing to do is."

When I spoke to Chanin again this summer, he had decided to write a motion in support of a federal takeover. In his view, the department can't be trusted to reform itself. It's an ineptitude that continues to baffle Chanin and many Oakland residents.

"We are not asking for much," he said. "We are not asking for these police to like everyone in Oakland, we're just asking them to follow the United States Constitution and treat people equally. When they go home to their families they can say anything they want. Hopefully, we can get officers who actually go home to Oakland and say, 'What a great city this is.' Because it is."

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