(Photo courtesy of OPD)

The Oakland Police Department will enact a new much more restrictive policy for searching people on probation and parole that the department and its oversight commission hope will help repair strained community relations.

Police officers will be instructed not to immediately inquire about someone’s probation or parole status during an interaction unless there is some threat to officer or public safety.

Under state law, police officers can search anyone on probation or parole at any time. Officers can conduct searches in everyday interactions, such as when approaching someone who is jaywalking or pulled over for a traffic violation.

The Oakland City Council unanimously approved the new policy early this month. It’s been subject to over a year of negotiations as the department has had differences with the city’s Police Commission over how restrictive the policy should be.

While negotiations have brought the versions by the department and commission closer together, both brought separate versions to the City Council meeting on July 9. The council sided with the Police Commission.

At issue was three aspects of the policy: language in the instructions not to ask about probation or parole status, the definition of a violent offense, and how long ago a prior contact with a probationer or parolee has to be before an officer can assume they are still on probation or parole.

“Asking (about probation or parole status) at the beginning of an encounter, without any justification, is unjust, it’s unreasonable,” said Oakland police Sgt. Joe Turner, who helped negotiate the policy for the department.

Several public speakers expressed support for the Police Commission’s version of the policy, saying it was clearer.

The Police Commission’s policy “reduces the wiggle room that officers too often use to avoid discipline when the spirit of a policy is violated,” said Henry Gage III with the Coalition for Police Accountability.

“This country wants a change in the mentality and culture of policing and the Police Commission’s version will help us get there,” said Brian Hofer, executive director of Secure Justice.

The policy still needs to be reviewed by the department’s independent monitoring team, part of court-ordered reforms reached in a class action lawsuit in 2003. If approved by the team, it will take effect after officers are trained on the policy.