OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – After months of volatility in the Oakland Police Department over a sex scandal involving an underage prostitute and protests against police brutality across the nation, on Tuesday voters overwhelmingly approved establishing a police commission to investigate police misconduct and discipline officers.
With all precincts reporting, Measure LL passed with 82 percent of the vote, reflecting Oakland residents’ deep desire to reform the police department and hold officers accountable.
“It truly takes a village to win 82 percent of the vote for a measure,” wrote Rashidah Grinage, coordinator for the Coalition for Police Accountability, in a Wednesday Facebook post. “The [coalition] thanks everyone for the support that provides us with a mandate to hold our police department accountable to the community they are sworn to serve and protect.”
The coalition had been campaigning for years to set up a police commission before council members Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb took up the issue and helped get it on the November ballot.
The seven-member commission will have the ability to investigate police misconduct, discipline officers and hire and fire the police chief.
An earlier version of the measure also scrapped binding arbitration for police officers found guilty of misconduct. But it was rumored the police union threatened to sue over the change, and the city’s worker unions pressured Gallo and Kalb to drop the arbitration language before agreeing to support it.
Before voting at a July city council meeting to place the measure on the November ballot, Gallo and Kalb said the city will address binding arbitration when it renegotiates its contract with the police union in 2018, and characterized the measure as a first step toward a strong police commission.
“We’ve been at this for several years now,” Gallo said in July of the need to compromise to get Measure LL before voters. “It’s long overdue in this city for us to take action.”
Three of the commission’s members will be appointed by the mayor, and four by an independent panel, whose members will be chosen by the city council.
Activists expressed dismay last summer that Mayor Libby Schaff would choose nearly half of the commissioners. They argued Schaff couldn’t be trusted with the responsibility after the way she handled the police department’s sex scandal, which involved a former police captain soliciting an underage prostitute who went by the name Celeste Guap.
Schaff appointed three different police chiefs in nine days after news of the scandal broke, and finally put city administrator Sabrina Landreth in charge of the department.
Activists with the Anti-Police Terror Project, who opposed the mayoral appointments in July, could not be reached for comment on Measure LL’s passage Wednesday.
Kalb, however, assured voters in a Yes on LL video released before Election Day that city-civilian oversight of the police will be effective.
“We need an independent police commission to make sure we have a combination of city hall and civilian oversight of our police chief,” he said. “It will have a role in making sure serious misconduct has serious consequences.”
What the new commission will achieve for a police department notorious for officer misconduct remains to be seen, but Grinage was optimistic on Wednesday.
“Now, the work begins!” she wrote.