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By contrast, OPD's civilian staff members are much more likely to live within Oakland. About 46 percent of OPD's administrative staff and other non-patrol officer employees reside in the city, but few of them have any significant interactions with Oakland residents while on the job.
"If by and large these cops don't live in Oakland, don't spend money here, and don't really have personal ties here, I wouldn't expect them to really care about the people who live here," said Yvonne Michelle, a community organizer and resident of Oakland, after reviewing a summary of data describing where OPD officers live. "The police officers who might care about people's lives are still at a disadvantage because they do not know the ebbs and flows of the neighborhoods that they police. They can only see Oakland as cops, not as residents."
This disconnect with Oakland's communities, especially its black and immigrant neighborhoods in West and East Oakland, also may affect the patterns and practices of police conduct, said Jeremy Miller, co-director of Education Not Incarceration. "If the police don't live in the same general community they patrol, serious problems arise," he argued. "They are unfamiliar with the rhythms of life where they're working, because it's not at all like the places where they predominantly dwell."
Miller believes that this likely causes a mentality among officers who feel as if they are "entering a battlefield where the job is to get in, fight the bad guys, and then get out."
Activists like Michelle and Miller contend that this dynamic is at the root of OPD's "patterns and practices" of violating the rights or Oakland residents. It was the court's finding in the Riders Case more than ten years ago — that OPD did, in fact, exhibit a pattern and practice of violating the rights of Oakland residents — that led to the federal consent decree.
Cephus Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, who has become a leader in the Bay Area's police accountability movement, called OPD's culture "institutionally racist." Johnson referred to the defaced photos of Mayor Quan and Judge Henderson as just one example of the department's hostility to Oakland's communities of color. "When you're bringing in officers who live in Walnut Creek to serve the people of Oakland, you have an officer who has been isolated from the very communities they need to understand and protect," Johnson said. "They look at the whole community in a savage way and act like they're going into combat by treating every young black or brown person accordingly."
"This is part of the reason why reforms don't work," added Mesha Irizarry, after looking over data describing the cities from which OPD recruits police cadets, where current officers choose to live, and the towns where retirees predominantly reside. Founder of the Idris Stelley Foundation, a Bay Area police watchdog group, Irizarry is a longtime supporter and organizer of families who have lost loved ones to violent encounters with the police. In recent months, she has been organizing and marching in downtown Oakland to call attention to the shooting earlier this year of teenager Alan Blueford. The prevailing community sentiment in East Oakland is that Blueford's killing is a clear case of institutional problems within OPD, including racial profiling and the frequent use of excessive force.
Pointing to a map of the zip codes where OPD staff members live, Irizarry noted that the home zip code of the officer who shot Alan Blueford is the small city of Los Banos, California, more than 150 miles from Oakland, a place where African Americans make up less than 4 percent of the population. Adam Blueford, Alan's father, spoke of the difference between the native officers who patrolled Oakland's Brookfield Village neighborhood thirty years ago and OPD's current staff. "We had officers from the neighborhood who we knew and respected," Blueford said. "It was very different than it is now with the militarized policing we're seeing today."
Whether it's a source of problems or not, the geographic distribution of Oakland's outsider police force is nothing new. Cops have, for several decades now, shunned the city as their home, choosing to live in surrounding suburbs instead. In 1980, James C. Westbrook, a graduate student at Golden Gate University, was granted access by OPD to interview hundreds of officers, probing their attitudes about themselves, their profession, and society at large. Westbrook found that only 18 percent of OPD officers lived in Oakland at the time — double the 9 percent of sworn officers who currently reside in the city. Those who lived outside the city said they chose to avoid Oakland while not on the job because of its "high crime rate." Cops bought homes elsewhere because of Oakland's "low quality schools," wrote Westbrook in his dissertation.
Oakland's police officers say this is an unfair and incomplete explanation of why so many of them live outside Oakland. Some Oakland cops cite worries about their family's safety as a critical reason for living elsewhere. One Oakland officer, who was born and raised in the city by a father who served in OPD, said she and her husband (another OPD officer) moved to the Central Valley because of death threats her spouse started to receive after shifting to a high-risk unit. "We loved Oakland, our kids were in school here, we loved the community, but at a certain point we had to take those threats seriously," said the officer, who requested anonymity because of the nature of her and her spouse's assignments.