OAKLAND -- One of the nation's most accomplished police chiefs still wants to help turn around Oakland's beleaguered force despite boisterous protests against him and wavering support from at least two council members.
"I'm still very desirous of working in Oakland," Former NYPD and LAPD Chief Bill Bratton said Wednesday. "I think the assistance that I can provide will be of value to the city."
Bratton's repeated support for "stop and frisk" police tactics has spurred vocal opposition to a $250,000 contract for him and associates to help design and implement a crime-fighting strategy for California's most violent city.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the contract next week.
Dozens of protesters, many of them with ties to Occupy Oakland, meowed, hissed and cursed as the council's Public Safety Committee considered the contract on Tuesday. Many of the roughly 80 speakers urged council members to reject Bratton, saying that he would provide political cover for police to implement more aggressive street tactics.
The boisterous opposition appeared to make an impact.
The four-member committee agreed to recommend that the full City Council approve the consulting contract, but at the insistence of newly-elected council members Dan Kalb and Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the recommendation didn't specifically call for Bratton to be part of the consulting team.
Neither council member ruled out ultimately supporting Bratton, but they questioned whether he could help build community trust when he is such a controversial figure.
"He may be the best," Gibson McElhaney said. "But is he bringing so much baggage to this table ... that he will not be effective?"
Council members Noel Gallo and Libby Schaaf supported keeping Bratton as part of the consulting team.
"This man is the best of the best," Schaaf said. "His track record in reducing crime is second to none."
Bratton, who did not attend Tuesday's meeting, said he would be able to handle protesters during public meetings he would have to convene as a consultant.
"I've been in policing for 40 years in some of the most difficult cities in America, so I'm pretty good at dealing with the community," he said.
Bratton is perhaps the best known name in American law enforcement. His tenures in New York City and Los Angeles were marked major reductions in crime and increased public support for the police departments. In Los Angeles he won accolades from the ACLU for a dramatic reduction in police-related complaints.
Oakland is searching for outside help for an undermanned department that is struggling in multiple areas. Police have failed to win the trust of minority communities and combat a 23 percent spike in violent crime.
The controversy over Bratton stems from his support for "stop and frisk" -- a tactic that has become synonymous with giving police more latitude to stop and search potential suspects.
Critics say it results in racial profiling; a federal judge last week struck down a key component of New York's program.
Oakland's police department already is facing increasing federal oversight over a stalled reform effort that stems from a group of rogue police officers accused of beating up and framing drug suspects.
Civil Rights Attorney Dan Siegel told council members that bringing in Bratton was tantamount to "thumbing your nose" at the federal judge who is overseeing the reforms.
In an interview last month, Bratton acknowledged that stop and frisk is "an issue" in Oakland, but defended the practice as a basic tool of policing. "The challenge is to make sure they're doing it lawfully and compassionately," he said. "It can't just be in certain areas of the city."
City leaders tried to temper concerns about Bratton on Tuesday. Chief Howard Jordan issued a written statement declaring that while all police departments routinely stop suspects, he won't allow "zero-tolerance" policing tactics in the city.
Robert Wasserman, the city's police consultant who recommended bringing Bratton to Oakland as part of his team, told council members Tuesday that stop and frisk wasn't on the agenda and that citizens would play a key role in making recommendations. "Nothing will get implemented that will not fit the Oakland environment," he said.
Wasserman said that Bratton could provide expertise in implementing neighborhood policing and strengthening the department's connection with residents.
Should the full council reject Bratton, Wasserman said he would find someone else to join his consulting team. "Bratton isn't the biggest piece in this," he said. "The biggest piece of this is getting the long-term strategy that the community has to articulate and work out."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.