In football, a Hail Mary is a bold but desperate play -- often by a trailing team in the final seconds of the game. Think former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana heaving a touchdown pass to Dwight Clark with less than a minute on the clock to beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-27 and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
That's the image that came to mind when Oakland officials announced in the final days of December that they had hired William Bratton -- one of the top law enforcement experts in the world -- as a consultant to help the city get control of the violence that claimed 131 lives in 2012.
It is the kind of stunning play that few people expected.
Oakland officials are hoping that bringing in Bratton -- one of the top minds in policing -- will be a game changer. The announcement was all the more surprising because it was barely a year ago that Bratton told The Wall Street Journal that things were terrible in Oakland.
"It's a perfect storm of bad," he'd said in December 2011. "Too much oversight, not enough support from city leaders, too few officers."
None of those conditions has changed, and crime has gotten even worse.
People can't even go to church or walk to the store in certain neighborhoods in East and West Oakland without getting shot in crossfire. All over the city, people are getting robbed at gunpoint and sometimes shot and killed in the process. It has gotten to the point where many residents feel unsafe in their homes -- regardless of where they live.
So now, Oakland officials have called on Bratton, who will start in February. His fee will be about $125,000.
Bratton was police commissioner in New York and chief in Los Angeles. In both cities, his tenure coincided with major reductions in violent crime, though there has been some dispute over how much of the decline was due to his policies. Bratton aggressively pursued "quality of life" crimes as a way of preventing an escalation into more violent crimes. He is also a strong proponent of using crime data analysis -- CompStat -- to determine where police should be deployed. In Los Angeles, Bratton was credited with building strong relationships in the community and led LAPD through reforms mandated by a consent decree in the aftermath of the Ramparts police scandal.
Oakland can benefit from his know how. The problem is, all Bratton can do is advise. Unlike in New York and Los Angeles, Bratton will not be the chief.
OPD already has a chief, Howard Jordan. Then there is the police consultant Robert Wasserman. There will soon be a compliance director appointed by Judge Thelton Henderson to oversee OPD's progress on the remaining Riders reforms. How much authority will Bratton have? Will Oakland officials listen to him?
Former Oakland police Chief Anthony Batts is a Bratton protégé. He told Oakland officials that he needed at least 900 police to patrol the city. He pushed for gang injunctions and youth curfews to get kids off the streets so they wouldn't be as likely to be perpetrators or victims of gun violence.
Oakland officials blocked his proposals at every turn until he threw up his hands and left.
Bruce Nye, founder of the citizens' advocacy group Make Oakland Better Now, believes Bratton can have an impact in Oakland -- if city leaders will listen to his advice and if his recommendations lead to a comprehensive strategy for violence reduction that includes a concrete plan for building the police department back up to strength. Make Oakland Better Now's position is it is impossible for Oakland to make substantial reductions in crime with just 600 officers.
"They are going to have to announce a comprehensive safety plan that gets the confidence of the community so that they feel it's worth hiring more officers," Nye said. "I think it's more than a Hail Mary in this case because we have some receivers who know what they are doing."