Police consultants such as William Bratton and Robert Wasserman are warping policing nationwide, and even globally, to a disturbing uniformity. Cash-strapped cities are paying their consulting firms thousands, even millions, of dollars for advice on how to implement “broken windows” and “zero tolerance” style policing. These policies are springing up across the country, as advocates and communities scramble to respond. The most recent place is Oakland.
On January 15, hundreds of concerned Oakland residents attended a public safety committee meeting of the Oakland City Council to express their concern over Oakland’s plan to extend a $250,000 contract to Bratton, best known for stop-and-frisk and other zero tolerance policies in New York city. After a rally, hundreds of people squeezed inside the Council chambers; so many people, in fact, that police blocked off doors and started to turn stragglers away, until an overflow room was hastily set up. The tensions in the room were clear, as catcalling and booing started nearly immediately.
For nearly five hours, speaker after speaker stood at the podium to say that Oakland needs funds for services, not consultants, and that the root of the crime problem is the policies that criminalize black and brown people. One African-american elder stated the feelings of many in the crowd poignantly, as he discussed the targeting of young black men by the police:
If you want to kill a tree, kill the roots. If you want to kill a race, kill the children.
Members of the Justice for Alan Blueford Coalition reminded the council that Oakland’s policies, even without the aid of Bratton’s tough style of policing, have resulted in killings like that of Mr. Blueford, an unarmed young black man who was shot to death by the police. At the end of the meeting, however, the committee voted to move forward with the contract, sending it to a vote before the full Oakland City Council, where one week later, the scene was repeated. After a nearly 8 hour long meeting, with over 250 speakers, the the full city council voted, 7-1 , to approve the contract, regardless of the fact that the majority of speakers were against the contract.
What happened in Oakland is unsurprising, to those who have watched as policing models have shifted towards “zero tolerance” models. Much like the shift towards militarization in protest policing, models like stop-and-frisk have become the norm. Across the country, elected officials seem to have given up on addressing the root causes of crime, instead looking for an easy answer.