Alameda County 2020-21 grand jury issues recommendations

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On June 21, Alameda County's 2021-22 grand jury issued its final report. The report aims to address allegations of misbehavior with the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees, racial inequities in police responses to victims’ needs and the need for accuracy and impartiality of ballot measure questions. 

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The 2020-21 Alameda County grand jury issued its final report June 21, offering recommendations to three county organizations. 

The final report seeks to address allegations of misbehavior with the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees, racial inequities in police responses to victims’ needs and the need for accuracy and impartiality of ballot measure questions. 

“Those agencies are required by law to formally respond to the findings and recommendations within 90 days of the report publications,” said jury foreperson Susan Frost in an email. “Ultimately, the grand jury is acting on behalf of Alameda County residents to hold government agencies accountable, address problems and improve effectiveness.”

The jury members worked remotely to attend meetings and interview witnesses, according to a letter from Frost to Tara M. Desautels. The letter also said the grand jury members interviewed more than 100 witnesses, reviewed hundreds of documents and performed “countless” hours of research. 

Assistant District Attorney Rob Warren noted that the grand jury received eight formal complaints regarding the behavior of the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees, which serves more than 20,000 students each semester, including those at Berkeley City College. The complaints ranged from interfering with the authority of the chancellor to general incivility. 

After interviewing 19 witnesses, including current and former trustees, administrators, faculty and statewide experts in governance best practices, the grand jury determined the trustees had three violations. First, it interfered with the chancellor’s authority. Second, the trustees were harsh toward other trustees and administrators. Lastly, the board had held secret meetings in violation of the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting laws aimed to protect the sanctity of participatory governance in California.

In one particular case of incivility, the grand jury analyzed an email from one trustee stating, “Let them dare to try to take us over for this weak shit,” and “Let’s kill them tomorrow.” 

In January 2020, the UC Berkeley School of Law published a study titled “Living with Impunity: Unsolved Murders in Oakland and the Human Rights Impact on Victims’ Family Members.” The study found that the Oakland Police Department was “severely lacking” in policies critical to address crime victims, leading to racial inequities in compensating victims. 

The grand jury was motivated by the study and sought to understand the levels of racial disparity in OPD’s victim compensation, the report notes. The grand jury found that while state law mandates law enforcement agencies to have a crime liaison officer who provides support services to victims, OPD did not comply with the law until the grand jury raised the issue in January 2021. 

The grand jury also found that many victims of color, particularly Black victims, are denied compensation because of a “lack of cooperation with law enforcement.” The report found that Black applicants for compensation received 42.2% of all denials, whereas white applicants received 10.3%. 

In the report, the jurors said the subjective nature of cooperation increases the chances that racial biases will enter determinations. Furthermore, the jury found that determinations of cooperation are made solely by the police, often without victim input. 

Based on its findings, the jurors recommended that OPD immediately designate a crime liaison officer and work with the Victim-Witness Assistance Division to investigate racial inequities with victim compensation. 

The last issue the report offered recommendations for was the need for accurate and unbiased wordings for local ballot measures. 

“Every election year, Alameda County voters are faced with a plethora of measures on the ballot that can be confusing and difficult to understand,” Frost said in a letter to Desautels. “While describing a measure in 75 words or less on the ballot can be a challenge, providing unbiased and informative descriptions consistent with Elections Code are imperative.”

During its investigation, the grand jury analyzed six ballot measures, five from the 2020 elections and one from 2016. 

Many questions used favorable language that was irrelevant or unnecessary to describe the measure, the report noted. San Leandro’s Measure VV, passed in November 2020, said its increase of the real estate transfer tax would be used “supporting seniors … through COVID-19 economic recovery … (and) maintaining youth violence prevention programs.” 

However, none of those programs exist in the text of the actual ordinance itself, according to the report. 

The report also found that measures would use language that was relevant to the ordinance but was argumentative in nature. For instance, Hayward Measure OO begins with the phrase, “To create more opportunities for residents to volunteer, and to honor Hayward’s commitment to diversity,” before explaining what the measure would actually implement. 

Based on its findings, the grand jury recommended that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors should create an independent advisory committee to review local ballot questions according to a set of uniform standards and guidelines.

Christopher Ying is the lead crime and courts reporter. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @ChrisYingg.