by People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey
News broke nationwide on Sept. 27 that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department stripped 47 deputies, 10% of the force, of their guns and arrest powers because they failed psychological exams in the wake of a double homicide, allegedly committed by a former deputy. Although all deputies under investigation are still on the payroll, they have been placed on administrative leave.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department gave arresting and killing powers to people who were not equipped mentally and psychologically to be law enforcement, by law enforcement’s own very low standards. The excuse that the department has been using is that they overlooked the low test scores because they were understaffed.
What effect has this reasoning had on community safety in Alameda County? This really needs to be studied. All law enforcement in Alameda County and surrounding counties should be audited like this regularly, considering that the Oakland Police Department is trying to negotiate its way out of federal receivership after the infamous ‘03 Oakland Riders case.
I wanted to sit down with Chair Emeritus Regina Jackson of the Oakland Police Commission, who also retired this year as the longtime CEO and president of the East Oakland Youth Development Center to gather her feelings and insight. Check her out in her own words.
Chair Emeritus Regina Jackson of the Oakland Police Commission is speaking only for herself and not the commission. She speaks out of her experience as a commissioner and longtime provider of youth services.
JR Valrey: What were your initial thoughts as a commissioner and longtime provider of youth services when you heard that 47 sheriffs failed the psych exam to be law enforcement officers but were still hired?
Regina Jackson: My initial thoughts were that Alameda County Sherriffs need an overhaul of their policies and performance standards. To have officers fail a psych examination is an indicator that quality performance will be lacking. The job requires exceptional responsibility, and psychology is an important indicator of the judgment calls that must be made within policy.
Serving the people typically in crisis when sheriffs are called requires active listening, emotional intelligence and sound judgment. If professionals are operating below this measure, as a failed psych test would indicate, that is a recipe for disaster.
Failure to pass a test as important as psychology challenges everyone’s safety.
My ultimate thought was that Alameda County Sheriff’s Office should be under federal oversight in order to have an external entity provide resource support and accountability.
JR Valrey: Can you explain any correlations that you may see between the law enforcement officer who failed his psych test and ended up still being hired, then killing the couple in Dublin, and the rampant police violence and murder that Oakland has been historically famous for that got the OPD put into federal receivership for the last 20 years?
Regina Jackson: The Correlation between Alameda County psych test and rampant violence in Oakland … When Oakland Police Department has worked so diligently to get out of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) after 20 years, the fact that Alameda County is serving some of the same people but without the same mental capacity or policy standards could mean that the citizens are getting less by way of customer service, emotional intelligence and response. These jobs require that you have your full ability to respond to crisis, which requires on the spot mental acuity, analysis and process. If professionals begin without these basic law enforcement skills and standards, the citizens lose.
JR Valrey: What can and should be done about this miscarriage of justice and intentional danger to public safety? Who is directly responsible for this?
Regina Jackson: This public safety challenge should not be allowed to stand. The standard of excellence must be upheld. Failure to pass a test as important as psychology challenges everyone’s safety. I am not sure of the reporting structure; perhaps this falls in the Alameda County Board of Supervisors camp to overturn. If not them, then who?
JR Valrey: Law enforcement is claiming that they have to hire people who score lower on the exams in all departments now because there is a shortage of people who want to become law enforcement. What do you think about that argument?
Regina Jackson: “The People’s public safety” is not negotiable. I do not accept that lower scores are permissible because of a shortage. Alameda County should overhaul their entire recruitment and accountability process.
Public safety recruitment and retention is down across the country. It has suffered both from poor reputation and abuse as well as calls for more accountability, which requires more work. It is a tougher job now. Reputation starts with holding leadership accountable and fixing internal processes and performance. Lowering professional expectations works against that theory.
I know we are waiting for new leadership to begin in January but we cannot be allowed to sleep on the job simply because we are lame ducks. Alameda County Sheriff’s Department should consider more diverse applicants as well. Alameda County is not held to the standard that Oakland is, which means that they become a weak link to our broader public safety. Alameda County covers more territory and will likely create as many problems as it resolves, given this major challenge.
JR Valrey: Do you think that the scandal is bigger than what is being reported? Why or why not?
Regina Jackson: When you have an issue like 47 officers – 10% of the workforce – failing a psych exam, it’s a big number that makes me wonder what other quality assurance issues there might be. We have the poor quality of Santa Rita Jails, which is another piece of the puzzle. If you look deeper, we are likely to find even more problems.
JR Valrey: Has the Oakland Police Department been audited in this way? After this scandal, will the Oakland Police Department be audited to see how wide reaching this policy is of hiring officers who are unfit to serve even by law enforcements standards?
Regina Jackson: Given our federal oversight, I believe that OPD performance standards are very strict and are consistently being audited and monitored.
JR Valrey: What has the Police Commission been up to recently?
Regina Jackson: The work of the Police Commission is ongoing with new policy work on militarized equipment, managing the sustainability work to fully leave the NSA behind, supporting the new Office of the Inspector General, hiring more staff as the commission grows and so much more.
JR Valrey: How could people get more information on the Oakland Police Commission?
Regina Jackson: Citizens can get more information on the Oakland Police Commission by attending our meetings on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at 6:30 p.m., going to our website, reaching out to our new Chair Milele or following our work on Twitter.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. Visit www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com to read more.