Oakland Police Will Stop Asking Recruits if They Were Sexually Assaulted
by Laura M. Holson
The mayor of Oakland, Calif., has ordered an end to a Police Department policy that required job applicants to disclose whether they had been sexually assaulted.
Since at least 2012, the Oakland Police Department had used a form that allowed staff members to conduct background checks on recruits. When signed by the applicant, the form authorized the release of confidential information, including whether a person had been sexually assaulted, school transcripts, credit history and criminal records, according to Johnna Watson, a public information officer for the department.
Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, also called for the department to team up with the Oakland Police Commission on a “top-to-bottom review” of how the department recruited and hired “to ensure no other barriers discourage the hiring of women or minority applicants,” she said in a statement on Sunday.
“Sexual assault survivors have persevered through trauma, and their resilience is a character quality we respect, honor and welcome in Oakland,” Mayor Schaaf said.
The news of the policy, which was first reported on Sunday in The San Francisco Chronicle, drew criticism from some law enforcement experts in the field.
“I was shocked they had that policy,” Catherine Sanz, executive director of Women in Federal Law Enforcement, said in an interview on Monday. “There is no reason for it. Where does it stop? Do they ask about domestic violence? Do they ask if you were abused as a child? These are all artificial barriers to get people from joining.”
Women made up 12 percent of the national police force last year, Ms. Sanz said, a number that has held steady since 2007. She added that requiring the disclosure of sexual assault would have a “chilling effect” on recruitment. “For employment purposes, anyone could turn that against you,” she said.
“I can’t imagine why they would need to know that information, except as a way to wash out women,” Penny Harrington, a retired police chief from Portland, Ore., told The Chronicle. Ms. Harrington, who founded the National Center for Women & Policing, was the first woman to lead the police department of a major American city.
Officer Watson said a candidate would not be disqualified for being a victim of sexual assault. Instead, the department was interested in reviewing police reports in which an applicant might appear, she said.
The department has been roiled by a two-year-old sex abuse scandal in which several officers in Oakland were accused of sexually exploiting a minor. Last year, court-appointed investigators claimed in a report that the department was careless and did not properly investigate and review the charges. The report also took Mayor Schaaf to task for a lack of oversight in the case.
Last year, Anne E. Kirkpatrick, a former police chief in Spokane, Wash., was named Oakland’s new chief of police, to help quell turmoil in the department’s ranks.