Oakland Police Make Controversial Move


October 1, 2015

By Neil Rubenstein

Observer Columnist

For the first time a civilian will be joining the top echelons of the Oakland Police Department to help decide how internal affairs cases should be handled.

The hiring of Winkle “Hobie” Hong, a Chicago attorney with experience in civilian police oversight, is the logical next step in adopting best practices and keeping Oakland on the leading edge of 21st century police work, according to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Starting in mid-October he will be a director in the Internal Affairs Division, reporting to a police captain.

City officials believe establishing a permanent director’s position will help stabilize the Internal Affairs Division, which operates on a rotation leadership basis.

Policing the police is one of the most unpopular jobs in Oakland and many other big-city police departments, but an essential one, said Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent.

Whent believes Hong’s arrival will bring more stability and consistency.

Running Internal Affairs “is not a popular job, but it’s helpful for me to get that kind of experience for my commanders,” the chief said. “It’s also a stepping - stone to higher rank – me, my assistant chief and four deputy chiefs have all run…Internal Affairs.”

But even while Hong, who will make $156,000 a year, holds the title of “director,” he has the authority only to recommend a course of action to a police captain who holds final authority.

“I didn’t call him a director,” Whent said. “I don’t know where that came from. He’s a manager, but the final decision will still lie with the captain.”

On the organizational chart, Hong will be the equivalent to a police lieutenant who answers to a captain, Whent said.

Something was lost in the communications between the two parties because Hong, 39, expects to eventually lead the department’s investigative unit. He said he will work alongside the captain until he can take the reins himself.

“That may happen somewhere down the line, but we are just embarking on this now so we’ll see how it goes,” Whent said.

Hong is a Detroit native who served for five years as a legal adviser to the Illinois Police Review Authority.

“Coming in as an outsider, a newcomer, and not knowing the landscape and the politics…there’s going to be an evaluation and training period working in conjunction with the captain,” Hong said. “My understanding is that the role of the director will involve managing the department, reviewing investigations, calling it as I see it and being objective.”

The city’s plan to place civilians in administrative positions of authority over rank-and-file police officers is a work in progress and far from a finished product, but such sweeping changes are already in the works around the nation – and while I can’t say Oakland is ahead of the curve, it is on the right track.

Still, not everyone is supportive.

Barry Doneland, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, isn’t quite as enthusiastic as his superiors, nor is he convinced that the city’s latest move is anything more than rearranging the furniture.

He points out that while everyone is talking about all the strides Oakland has made in “21st century” policing, the reality is that the city is in worse shape, crime-wise, than it was a year ago.

He says there were seven homicides in Oakland in August this year – and last year. Overall, he says, homicides have increased this year by 28 percent while assaults on police officers have jumped by 68 percent.

“When are we going to focus on crime?” he asked.

It is a fair question. (Reprinted: San Francisco Chronicle by Chip Johnson with permission.)

It was Monday, September 21 when Governor Brown stopped worrying about the water crisis, the tax crisis, and the 6,210 other crises facing the Golden State and signed the bill requiring parents to keep their babies in rear-facing seats until they are two or taller than 40 inches or weigh 40 pounds or more.

In an article in Injury Prevention published in 2007. children would be 75 percent less likely to die from or be severely injured if they rode facing the rear. (As printed in the San Francisco Chronicle.)

A federal judge upheld the City of Berkeley, California’s authority on Monday, September 22 to require cell phone retailers to tell customers that carrying switched-on phones too close to their bodies might exceed federal radiation exposure standards, but barred a warning that “this potential risk is greatest on children.”

For those who missed an article, all my commentaries can be found at http://www.culvercityobserver.com by placing Rubenstein in that website’s search box.


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