OAKLAND -- A second round of fiery protests failed to dissuade council members from enlisting former NYPD and LAPD Chief Bill Bratton to help Oakland fight crime, but it did convince city leaders to limit Bratton's public profile as a consultant.
Oakland's original plan for Bratton -- one of the world's most celebrated police chiefs -- included having him and Chief Howard Jordan conduct several community meetings "to engage and seek the community's support in reducing crime," according to a city report earlier this month.
But that plan changed after it became clear that Bratton's support for aggressive police tactics made him a lightning rod for protesters who filled the council's chamber two weeks in a row.
Instead, Bratton's consulting duties in Oakland will be limited to behind-the-scenes work surveying crime reduction efforts, setting forth a crime reduction strategy and interviewing city leaders.
Jordan said Wednesday that he didn't want protesters to turn the community forums into referendums on Bratton's record.
"We want to get things done," he said. "We don't want to be distracted by things that aren't part of the plan."
The council voted 7-1 early Wednesday morning to approve a $250,000 contract for a consulting team that includes Bratton to devise a crime reduction plan for Oakland, the state's most violent city. Councilwoman Desley Brooks cast the lone dissenting vote.
Oakland is reeling from a 23 percent jump in violent crime last year as the city's police force shrank to just 613 officers -- the lowest staffing level in more than a decade. The city's 131 homicides last year were the most since 2006.
Bratton is expected to begin work in February. Jordan said he would visit Oakland "more than three times."
Councilman Larry Reid opposed lowering Bratton's profile. He said that Bratton needed to engage residents to understand the city's crime issues. "We're caving into the protesters," he said.
Isaac Ontiveros, who helped organize the protests, said Bratton's revised duties was a victory for demonstrators. "I think it's unprecedented," he said."It speaks to the energy and insight and passion of Oakland residents."
Landing Bratton, who is best known for significantly reducing crime while at the helm of the nation's two biggest municipal police departments -- the New York and Los Angeles police departments -- initially was seen as a coup for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
But his repeated support for aggressive police tactics quickly stirred protests in a city where many residents don't trust the police department.
Bratton critics, many of whom were active with Occupy Oakland, feared he would give the city political cover to implement "stop and frisk" -- a tactic synonymous with granting police more latitude to stop and search potential suspects. They said minority boys and men would be the overwhelming targets.
Supporters of Bratton said that "zero-tolerance" police tactics were off the table and that Oakland needed someone of Bratton's stature and expertise to help the severely undermanned department fight a wave of violent crime.
Several hundred people watched the four-hour debate at City Hall, both inside the packed council chamber and in several overflow rooms with television feeds. Public testimony began with several ministers urging support for the contract. But as the night wore on, more opponents filled the chamber, and several freely shouted at council members.
Last week, Bratton critics dominated a council committee meeting, often drowning out their opponents with boos and hisses.
After that meeting, Bratton said that the protests wouldn't keep him from engaging with residents.
But given the intensity of the opposition, several council members said Bratton would be most effective working behind the scenes.
"I'm glad that we're maximizing the time he spends with our officers," Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said.
Councilman Dan Kalb said it would have been good for Bratton to hear from community members, but "I don't know if the meetings would have been productive if he was there," he said.
The consulting contract is an extension of an earlier deal with Strategic Policy Partnership, a firm headed by Robert Wasserman, who has consulted for police departments across the country. Wasserman convinced city leaders last year to expand the contract and bring in Bratton to help improve the department's data analysis system and work on a crime reduction plan.
With Bratton out of the limelight, Wasserman and Robert Stewart, an instructor for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, will lead the community meetings.
The consulting contract was one of several measures approved in the wee hours Wednesday to help Oakland's understaffed police department fight crime.
Council members also voted to remove funding restrictions on what will be the city's third police academy in the past year, add 21 civilian staffers so officers will have more time for fighting crime, and bring in Alameda County sheriff's deputies to help patrol the city.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.