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Hundreds apply for powerful Oakland police commission

OAKLAND — A crowded field of nearly 150 people have applied for a coveted spot on the city’s new citizen police commission, a body of nine members wielding significant and unprecedented power over the Oakland Police Department.
Applicants from all over Oakland — lawyers, activists, former city workers, even possibly people who have served time — will undergo interviews in the coming weeks before the City Council in September is given a list of four names chosen by a city council-appointed selection panel Mayor Libby Schaaf selects the other three names.
The commission, considered one of the most powerful of its kind in the nation, has been the center of controversy since voters overwhelmingly approved Measure LL on Nov. 8. For example, current and former police officers cannot serve on the panel however ex-felons can.
Some of the commission’s responsibilities include:

Firing a police chief in a super majority vote and suggesting a replacement.
Making recommendations on the police department’s budget.
A subcommittee of three members will have a say in the discipline of police officers involved in misconduct or on-duty incidents including officer involved shootings or complaints of excessive force.
The members are able to issue subpoenas and take testimony from police personnel.

Who’s applied?
Of the 146 applicants, only defense attorney Gary Sirbu, who represented a member of Your Black Muslim Bakery in the Chauncey Bailey murder case, and Regina Jackson of the East Oakland Youth Development Center, have indicated they are seeking a Schaaf appointment. The rest are either leaving themselves open to being chosen by the selection panel or both the panel and the mayor.
A review of the zip codes provided by the applicants shows a greater presence of applicants from more affluent areas of Oakland. For instance, the 94605 zip code in the Oakland hills near Keller Avenue and neighborhoods above MacArthur Boulevard top the list with 24 applicants. Another 20 come from a zip code of mostly Montclair residents.
By contrast, flatland areas of East Oakland, such as 94621, have far fewer. Three applicants live in the area between 55th and 90th avenues and Bancroft Avenue and Interstate 880.
Notable names include Rotunda and Fox Theater developer Phil Tagami, former Mayor and state Assemblyman Elihu Harris. Others include Mike Nisperos, who is head of the state bar discipline system; Gay Cobb, CEO of Oakland Private Industry Council, Inc.;  Gwen Hardy, co-founder of Pueblo; and activists Cat Brooks, Carroll Fife and Leigh Davenport.
Rashida Grinage, of the Coalition for Police Accountability, said she hopes current and former members of the Citizen Police Review Board will be strongly considered. That review board was established in the 1980s and investigates complaints against police but has held far less authority than the new police commission will.
“It would be useful to have somebody who has had the experience of doing this sort of work to mentor the newcomers,” Grinage said. “Otherwise, it’s a steep learning curve.”
No cops allowed
Under the commission’s applicant guidelines, any Oakland resident 18 years or older can apply. Although the rules prohibit police officers and police department employees, a flier promoting the process encouraged formerly incarcerated individuals to apply, which irked Sgt. Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland police union.
“These individuals, on parole for crimes they have committed, can’t even vote or serve on a jury — but they can be a member of Oakland’s Police Commission,” Donelan wrote in an opinion piece in this newspaper in June. “We are sure that was not the intent of the voters when they approved Measure LL. The city of Oakland’s priorities for the community are out of whack.”
It’s unclear if any of the applicants have criminal backgrounds. A list provided by the city only listed names, zip codes, race, gender and disabilities. No background checks are required.
After deadlocking a few weeks ago, the council on Tuesday moved an ordinance related to the commission forward, which includes deciding who can sit on the commission’s discipline committee. Police accountability advocates had called for the mayor’s picks not to have a majority of the three-member group, fearing politics could get in the way.
Mayor Schaaf also requested that only one of her appointees be allowed to sit on that subcommittee. But council’s vote has left it up to the police commission’s future chair to decide the makeup of what is likely to be the most influential role of the commission.
Though the basic tenets of the panel have been cemented in legislation, observers say its members could eventually tweak the structure of the subcommittee and other procedures.
The selection panel, which began meeting earlier this year, and Mayor Schaaf plan to interview the 146 candidates over the next few weeks in private before holding public meetings with finalists.

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