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Hundreds of community members filled city hall to speak before the Oakland City Council during a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. The Oakland City Council held the meeting to consider a proposal to hire former NYPD and LAPD chief Bill Bratton as a consultant to help turn around Oakland's police department. (Aric Crabb/Staff)

It was a beautiful sight. There were so many people at the Oakland City Council meeting Tuesday they filled up all the seats in the main gallery and in the balcony. They lined up along the back and side walls until the fire marshal ordered them out because the crowd had exceeded capacity. They poured into four overflow rooms. Some people couldn't find any place to sit and left.

And guess what? They weren't there to haggle over a dog park or some other minor quality of life issue. People from all across our city flocked to City Hall -- a place many of them had never set foot before -- to show their elected officials that they were sick and tired of out-of-control crime and they wanted immediate action.

They came by the hundreds to show their support for four crime prevention measures, including a controversial proposal to hire William Bratton, a renowned law enforcement expert as a crime consultant. Many people had come in response to all hands on deck appeals from some of the council members, churches, community organizations, and neighborhood groups. The usually silent majority turned out in such force that they took over the majority of the seats in the main council chamber. City Council President Pat Kernighan, who had sent an email to her constituents urging "ordinary citizens" to fill the seats to leave less room for "bullies" and "hecklers" got more than she bargained for.


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"It made me so proud of Oakland," Kernighan said. "A lot of people were frustrated because they couldn't get into the main chamber or didn't get to speak because the thing went on so late, but the fact that the people came down here was a huge statement in itself."

She said she also received hundreds of emails before the vote from people who had been victims of crime, urging council members to support all four crime proposals.

Bratton opponents who argued that he would bring "stop and frisk" practices and racial profiling to Oakland, cried foul. They complained supporters had hijacked democracy.

The very same folks who as the hour grew late and many supporters of the Bratton proposal had gone home, resumed their disruptive behavior until the vote was finally taken around 2:30 a.m.

There were still plenty of people who took to the mic to denounce the entire Oakland Police Department as a rogue agency running wild through the city and terrorizing African-American men. There were the usual comments about how we need more social programs and jobs -- not police to solve crime.

But unlike in the past, this time, it wasn't a one-sided debate. One pastor spoke of having already conducted three funerals this year for young men killed in gun violence. Other speakers said that yes, we need a comprehensive approach to addressing violence that includes jobs and better education. But while we pursue these longer-term strategies, we need a plan now for reducing the bloodshed.

Newly elected council member Lynette Gibson McElhaney expressed her concerns about serious problems at OPD. Yet, "if I vote against this motion," she said, "I'm voting for the status quo that is literally killing us."

In the end, that stark reality trumped ideology. The council voted 7-1 in favor of hiring Bratton under a $250,000 contract with the Strategic Policy Partnership. The consultants group's task is to help Oakland develop long- and short-term strategies for addressing crime citywide. The council also authorized the temporary hiring of Alameda County Sheriff's deputies, 20 new police technicians and a technician for the overwhelmed crime lab and funds for an additional police academy.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks cast the lone dissenting vote. Brooks raised a host of objections yet she didn't offer any alternate solutions.

I am not expecting some super cop to come in and make Oakland's crime problem disappear.

But I do believe that OPD can benefit from Bratton's expertise and he can begin to help us get on the right course. It's now up to city and police officials to make sure that the contract includes specific outcomes by specific dates -- as stipulated under an amendment introduced by councilman Dan Kalb. The city council in turn must be vigilant monitors.

We cannot afford for this to become another $250,000 spent on crime consultants that does nothing to help us put a plan in motion to address the violence.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/Tammerlin