Letters for the Week of May 15, 2013

Readers sound off on disabled parking and the OPD.

“Do Disabled Motorists Need Free Parking?,” News, 5/1

Find the Fraud

Charging for disabled parking defeats the entire purpose.

If there is fraud and folks using placards they are not entitled to, go after the fraud. Don’t destroy a needed law. And no, Joe Blow on the street should never confront possible abusers. You have no idea what their medical situation is, nor should the disabled have to justify themselves to any cretin on the street who questions them.

If you suspect abuse, report it. Take a picture or video of the alleged offender and the vehicle and placard info and report it. Then the investigators can check things out and fine those not in compliance.

As for who I am, I am on full SSDI disability and in a wheelchair with two forms of arthritis and other medical issues. In other words, my income is only a bit over $900 a month. Personally, I do not know why the non-disabled even drive, much less drive downtown. Are they too good for mass transit?

Neal Feldman, Salem, Oregon

What About the Doctors?

As an orthopedic nurse, I’m asked regularly to sign for handicapped parking permits. Fewer than 10 percent of the requests come from people using a cane, let alone crutches or a wheelchair. Unfortunately, it seems that many people sincerely believe that if walking a few blocks causes discomfort, they should have a placard. Pain is real and subjective, but it is not a disability. In almost all cases, increased activity, such as walking on flat surfaces, is beneficial and part of their treatment plan. Providers need to be held more accountable for placating patients with placards instead of educating them to maintain function.

Alice Benham, Richmond

Parking Should Never Be Free

Parking a private vehicle in public space should never, ever be free. Not only are cars responsible for tens of thousands of deaths every year in this country, they pollute everyone’s air, and take up public space. Motorists need to pay their share and pony up to their costs to the public. No free parking ever, disabled or not.

Rene Alvarez, Oakland

The Baby and the Bathwater

So … in order to deter the able-bodied who commit fraud, punish the truly physically impaired who actually need and have legally obtained disability parking placards? Way to go! Hey, let’s take away food aid from starving folks, too, since sometimes people who don’t need food stamps steal them! And wasn’t there just some big scandal in MediCare or MediCal where fake billing was uncovered? No more health care for the verifiably sick or disabled! 

This has the reek of yet another effort to balance the budget on the necks of the poor and disabled. I suspect the Quan administration would rather collect money from those of us who are disabled than put a little muscle into cracking down on fraud.

Increased fines for illegal placard use would be a real and far more effective deterrent to corruption, and add more to the budget than picking the pockets of the disabled.
Incidentally, why do people with placards need free parking? Because some of us can’t make extra trips back and forth from our destination to our parking spot to feed the meter. Because medical appointments can run hours late. Because, depending on one’s disability, everything can take longer. Because many of us are on a fixed income precisely because we are disabled, or because being disabled enough to qualify for a placard often means one can’t work full-time.

Mara Math, San Francisco

“Deanna Santana Blocks Reform of Internal Affairs,” News, 4/24

The City of Oakland Weighs In

This article contained numerous factual errors. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the article refers to the city administrator by name in the headline, accusing her of “block[ing] reform,” the reporter never contacted the city administrator, Citizens’ Police Review Board staff, or anyone in the administration to fact-check his assertions or gather data to substantiate his conclusions. Had he done so, we could have provided accurate information to help you provide your readers with a full view of the facts.

This Administration is 100 percent committed to fully implementing an array of reforms designed to enhance community trust in the Oakland Police Department. There are two important reforms now underway that will advance this goal. One change entails using civilians instead of sworn officers to take complaints about police officers’ conduct so that community members feel that their complaints will be received objectively and fairly. The other involves transferring the Office of Inspector General (OIG) from the Oakland Police Department to the city administrator’s office, a best contemporary policing practice to increase civilian oversight of the police department.

The Administration has completed a significant amount of work on these reorganizations: we have consulted with the federal monitor and initiated communication with the compliance director regarding the proposals; begun the meet and confer process with the police officers’ union; drafted an OIG transition plan for compliance director approval; and completed appropriate job classifications. Upon receiving the compliance director’s approval, the City will recruit candidates to fill the new positions and implement the work plans right away.

There are three main errors in the story:

1. The amount of funding allocated for civilianization of internal affairs was not “slashed in half.”

The allocation was only temporarily reduced during the current fiscal year because implementation was postponed for six months, resulting in a half-year of savings of about $700,000; it is not an ongoing reduction.

By way of background, in June 2011, the City Council approved a two-year budget allocating nearly $1.5 million in funding to transfer complaint intake from OPD to the CPRB, effective in the second year starting July 2012. However, in January 2012, facing a budget shortfall of $28 million due to the state’s sudden elimination of redevelopment that resulted in significant budget cuts, the City Council voted to postpone civilianization of the complaint intake process by six months until January 2013, which was just four months ago.

2. It is incorrect that the CPRB “is so understaffed and underfunded that complaints often take more than a year to investigate.”

[Reporter Ali] Winston offers no data to back up this inaccuracy, and he did not fact-check this statement with CPRB staff. In fact, most cases are fully investigated with findings before the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. In the past two years, only three to four percent of the cases were closed due to an expired statute of limitations, and some cases are closed because the complainant filed too close to or after the expired statute, which would not be a result of limited staffing.

3. The assertion that the effort to civilianize the intake process was “further hampered” by the transfer of OIG to the city administrator’s office and that the city administrator “earmarked $237,625 from the $700,000 budgeted for the civilianization of internal affairs to pay for two performance auditors and a manager for the Inspector General’s Office” is flat-out wrong.

In fact, the city council supported and voted to fully and separately fund both of these efforts (approximately $700,000 for civilian intake and $237,625 for the transfer of OIG). They are not competing priorities, either from a funding or implementation standpoint, and they are fully supported by the mayor, the city administrator and the city council.

These inaccuracies illustrate the overall mistaken premise of the story and reveal an incomplete understanding of the processes and guidelines which must be followed to sustainably implement these important reforms, which are a key priority of the administration.

In a recent city council meeting and accompanying staff report, Deanna Santana explained the requirement for the newly appointed compliance director to review and approve the proposal to civilianize complaint intake. She was referring to a federal court order issued on December 12, 2012, which requires the city to consult with the compliance director regarding policies, personnel decisions and operations related to the tasks or objectives of the NSA:

From the December 12, 2012 Court Order:

B. Role of the Monitor Upon Appointment of the Compliance Director

1. The requirement in the January 24, 2012 order for consultation with the Monitor will terminate upon appointment of the Compliance Director. However, Defendants will not implement any of the types of changes or actions identified in the January 24, 2012 order without the Compliance Director’s direction or approval.

From the January 24, 2012 Court Order:

 IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, effective immediately, the Chief must regularly consult with the Monitor on all major decisions that may impact compliance with the NSA, including but not limited to:

• changes to policies, the manual of rules, or standard operating procedures;

• personnel decisions, including promotions, engagement of consultants, and

disciplinary actions in Class I misconduct cases;

• tactical initiatives that may have a direct or indirect impact on the NSA; and

• procurement of equipment, including software, that is intended for the purpose ofNSA compliance.

These reforms — civilianization of the complaint intake process and transfer of the Office of Inspector General from OPD to the city administrator’s office — directly relate to and may impact compliance with the NSA tasks and objectives and clearly require consultation with the compliance director. Per the court orders, the city administrator has requested the compliance director’s review and approval for the reorganization effort, and he has communicated his interest in involving the federal monitor in those discussions.

Both of these efforts require consultation with the compliance director as well as “meet and confer” with the police officers’ union and other employee bargaining groups, since each proposal would result in changes to current work conditions. Should the city act unilaterally to expedite these reforms, as Mr. Winston seems to suggest, we risk violating the terms of the NSA, numerous federal court orders and legally binding contractual agreements with employee bargaining groups.

Finally, the article mentioned that a person who spoke at the city council meeting said an officer “advised her against filing a complaint with the police review board, saying the civilian agency ‘would publish my phone number and I would get a lot of crank calls.'” The CPRB does not publish complainants’ phone numbers or addresses without their consent. This is a serious allegation that, if true, would undermine the community’s trust in the complaint intake process. As a result of this comment, CPRB staff has opened an investigation into this matter.

In a democracy, journalists play a critical role in holding government agencies and police departments accountable to the public. We appreciate fair and balanced reporting and feedback about how we can improve the quality of our services to the community. We hope that in the future Mr. Winston will have the journalistic accountability and professionalism to seek comment directly from the people he is writing about and ensure that the facts he reports are accurate and presented in an appropriate and balanced context. An informed public deserves no less.

Karen Boyd

Citywide Communications Director

City of Oakland

Ali Winston Responds

Ms. Boyd,

Your claims about my story are inaccurate and specious. The report contains numerous quotes from City Administrator Deanna Santana from the April 16 Oakland city council meeting and includes specific references to public documents that her office produced and are available on the city’s website. It should be noted that, at that council meeting, the council voted unanimously to speed up the process of civilianizing the intake of internal affairs complaints at the Oakland Police Department — despite the objections by Ms. Santana.

Regarding the amount of funds available for the civilianization of OPD, the report by the city administrator’s office itself indicated that available funds for civilianization were cut down to $700,000 from $1.4 million for the 2011-13 budget cycle. My story does not state that this cut was permanent. The city council has not yet approved the 2013-15 budget.

It is well documented that the CPRB is underfunded, understaffed, and, consequently, unable to address numerous complaints that are made to it. For example, a complaint I made more than two years ago about an officer using his personal phone to record a private conversation of mine with a source has yet to be adjudicated by the CPRB. I understand this was before Ms. Santana’s arrival in Oakland, but the base conditions for the CPRB’s ongoing problems have not been resolved. In fact, Ms. Santana’s decision to delegate additional, unrelated responsibilities to CPRB head Patrick Caceres is another example of the ways in which Oakland’s independent police watchdog is being stretched to the breaking point.

Furthermore, the city administrator’s report explicitly states that after the civilianization program was cut by $700,000, the city decided to spend $237,625 to hire staff for the Office of the Inspector General, which was proposed by Mayor Jean Quan last winter and was not part of the initial civilianization of internal affairs proposal.

In terms of the role of OPD Compliance Director Thomas Frazier in the civilianization proposal, the orders you cite by federal Judge Thelton Henderson do not specifically require Frazier’s approval. Rather, they instruct the city to “consult” with Mr. Frazier. Moreover, my story quoted attorney Jim Chanin — who is intimately involved in this process and whose legal motions resulted in Frazier’s appointment — saying that it is not Frazier’s role to block implementation of the civilianization of internal affairs, a proposal approved unanimously by the council two years ago.

Finally, as for your comment about the role of journalists in a democracy, it is vitally important for journalists to hold public officials accountable to the truth, particularly when those truths are uncomfortable.

Editor’s Note

After reviewing the facts of this issue, the Express stands by the accuracy of Mr. Winston’s report.


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