"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done" - Protestant Episcopal Church 1928 U.S. Book of Common Prayer


Oakland Officials Knew Concerns About Police Department’s Sexual Assault Inquiry

Oakland City Councilmember Larry Reid huddles with Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan at recent meeting

Published by the San Francisco Chronicle October 23, 2018
Posted on the OGS Website October 25, 2018

A majority of Oakland City Council members knew as early as this summer about claims that police applicants were asked to disclose records that would indicate their status as sexual assault victims, and one said she had heard “rumors” about the inquiry for the last two years.

But it was only Sunday, hours after The Chronicle published a story on it, that the Oakland Police Department was ordered to halt the practice by Mayor Libby Schaaf. The Chronicle found no other large cities in California that require the disclosure. Legal experts said it was inappropriate and possibly illegal.

The issue came up in a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on July 17, when an aide to Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan raised questions about the practice during a discussion on diversity in the Police Department.

“We have received a comment from women applicants, that they’re being asked whether they have been … subjected to sexual assault, and concern their responses will be made public,” the aide, John Knight, told the committee. “So, is this a question being asked? And if so, why? Has the department considered this as deterring women applicants?”

City Council members Desley Brooks, Abel Guillén, Noel Gallo and Larry Reid were sitting on the dais at the time. But there was no discussion of the comment, and Police Department command-staff representatives did not answer Knight’s questions during the meeting. Kaplan said she and her staff did not receive responses after the meeting, either.

She accused Schaaf of knowing about the inquiry “for a long time” and only taking action after it became public.

A spokesman for the mayor, Justin Berton, said Schaaf did not know about the practice until Sunday.

“The moment the mayor learned ‘sexual assault’ was included in a waiver to release confidential records she ordered it removed — and it has been,” Berton said.

The July discussion was about a resolution, authored by Kaplan, following up on items passed in 2015 and 2016 on strategies to boost the number of women, minorities and Oakland residents in the police force.

It recommended, for instance, that the Police Department increase its outreach to LGBT people and not use applicants’ past marijuana use as grounds for rejection. It passed the committee unanimously.

But nothing in the resolution mentions the sexual assault inquiry, despite Knight raising concerns about it.

In an interview Tuesday, Kaplan said the issue should have been addressed under the section of her resolution calling for “a review of recent applicants who were rejected at the background check stage to determine if any of them, especially Oakland residents, were rejected for reasons that might warrant reconsideration.”

Kaplan said she had heard “rumors” of the inquiry into sexual assault records beginning two years ago. She said it was up to Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth to fix it.

“I asked about it, and it was never answered,” Kaplan said. “A council member, by Oakland law, cannot order the question removed. That has to be done by the executive branch.”

She said she specifically broached the issue in face-to-face meetings with Landreth and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick in May or June.

“I tried to follow up,” Kaplan said, “but was told the chief was out of the country and not reachable.”

Spokespeople for Landreth and Kirkpatrick did not respond to requests for comment.

Before they can be hired, police officer candidates have to sign a form authorizing the release of records for a background investigation. A version of the form — in use since at least 2011 — said that included “local criminal history information ... including if I have been a victim of sexual assault.”

Officials in the department had justified the language by saying they wanted to review all police records in which an applicant might appear — as a victim, witness or suspect. They said someone would not be denied a position for being a sexual assault victim.

After The Chronicle’s story, the Police Department revised the waiver form and removed the line about being a victim of sexual assault. Schaaf also directed the department to work with the new Oakland Police Commission to “conduct a top-to-bottom review” of processes that might discourage the recruitment and hiring of women and minorities.

Fabian Brown, the regional coordinator for the International Association of Women Police, said she was surprised the City Council did not take up the issue.

“It’s never been done (elsewhere) in the Bay Area that I know of,” Brown said of Oakland’s requirement to release sexual assault records.

Whether a woman has been a victim of sexual assault is “a very personal thing. It has nothing to do with the job,” she said, adding that she was not speaking on behalf of the association.

Retired Portland, Ore., Police Chief Penny Harrington, who founded the National Center for Women and Policing and was the first woman to lead a major U.S. city police force, said rape survivors should be welcomed in the police force, because of their potential for increased empathy when investigating sexual assault cases.

Harrington said City Council members were “shirking their duty” and should have acted.

“You would think in this climate, with all of the Me Too things going on ... that if anything came up, they would be hypersensitive to it,” she said. “To not even answer the question or follow up with anyone — I don’t understand that.”









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