Open letter to the Alameda City Council,
We need to avoid the mistake made in the scoping last year, and ensure this investigation be explicitly tasked with not just looking at the officers involved, but everything that contributed, including systemic issues in the department.
It’s almost one year ago that the video of the arrest of Moli Watkins showed us something very wrong at APD. I was sickened by the incident, but much more disturbed by actions afterwards that raised major red flags that APD had the kinds of systemic problems that we hoped only lived elsewhere. So when I recently found the City Manager had limited the scope of the Watkins investigation to include only the arresting officers, and nothing about anything involving the officers around, the management or any other factors in the department that had led to it happening, I was shocked. Moli Watkins arrest could have easily ended up the way this did. And if there were contributing factors from the culture/actions of the department, then we all bear some responsibility for not having worked to find that out.
The possibility of issues with false reporting, management or union/extra protection, or even the closing of ranks that prevents officers who see issues from stepping in or stepping forward, then we need to know that, so we can, as a city, figure out how to change that.
Here is what happened that showed real indications of systemic problems
- False/minimizing reporting. A minimizing/misleading (frankly false) report made with the knowledge of the more senior officers and management after the incident (including a completely misleading statement sent from the chief to one of the councilmen who was trying to get the answers on what had happened.) When a public video shows how off the reporting was, we need to see if that is the exception or frequent.
- Protecting the Honor of the department vs. the Appearance. There was never a public statement from the department saying “no, this does not represent our values as a department” . Either that was a message to the other officers that the department had their back, regardless of what they did, or it was handcuffed because of protections from the police unions/PBOR.
- The Wall of Silence. Even after the word from the chief came down that it was ok for the rest of the officers to publicly comment on their feelings, not a single officer in the entire department publicly said they thought it wasn’t ok for a citizen to be treated that way. Which either means that everyone in the department thought that kind of thing was ok, which is terrifying, or more likely, that the culture makes it never ok for one officer to say anything about the bad/wrong behavior of another. This culture is utterly toxic. (Can you imagine a teacher being isolated and bullied if they came forward to report another teacher was abusing a kid?)
What we need to do this time is almost unforgivably easy. The council needs to specifically request that the scope of this new investigation be responsible for uncovering all the contributing factors, including culture/systemic issues that potentially contributed/protected these kinds of incidents.
Owner, D20 Games and caring member of the Alameda Community.
P.S. This isn’t an anti police thing, just the opposite. Any officer that is trying to do what is right will be helped by having the blocks of the blue wall knocked out of the way, and the shift in management that says that confronting and trying to remove those who don’t represent protect and serve is not a betrayal of fellow officers, but a protection of the honor of what being a peace officer should be.