By George Kelly
Mayor Libby Schaaf said Sunday night that she will end an Oakland Police Department practice of asking applicants to the force if they have ever been sexually assaulted.
The practice was revealed in a San Francisco Chronicle story on Sunday that said the department has, since at least 2011, required potential hires to sign a waiver allowing the department to conduct background checks for financial records, education transcripts and other information.
"Today I ordered the immediate removal of a waiver where OPD applicants authorize the release of confidential records, including those that would disclose whether they are victims of sexual assault," Schaaf said in a statement.
"Additionally, I directed the department to partner with the Oakland Police Commission to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the department's recruitment and hiring process to ensure no other barriers discourage the hiring of women or minority applicants. Sexual assault survivors have persevered through trauma, and their resilience is a character quality we respect, honor and welcome in Oakland," she said.
Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said she "was aware of and fighting to end the policy for some time." In October 2016, Kaplan proposed to the City Council to weigh changes to the hiring process, including outreach to women, people of color and the LGBT community. She also sought greater transparency about disqualifications, and urged that student debt or prior marijuana use not limit applicants' chances.
"They've been doing an awful job on recruiting women and refusing to to make changes requested by me and by others to fix it. The use of this offensive question is one of a longer list of problems with recruitment, and Schaaf and her team have been resistant to making any of the requested changes," Kaplan said Monday.
"I think the message by which officers have been recruited and the screening process both are flawed," Kaplan added. "It seems they are not being asked about their attitudes regarding respectful treatment of women and sexual misconduct."
Schaaf has previously called for review of the department's hiring process in the wake of several scandals. That review has led to multiple changes, including shrinking class sizes, doubling the number of investigators assessing candidates from four to eight, and ensuring that background checkers receive additional training.
Those changes and others have led to some visible increases in diversity and inclusion: Four of the thirteen graduates of the department's most recent academy in May were women.
(c)2018 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)