Oakland, California Mayor Libby Schaaf has put an end to a controversial policy that forced police department applicants to disclose whether or not they had been sexually assaulted in the past.
Oakland Police Department Shuts Down Controversial Sexual Assault Question
The Mayor’s order comes in the wake of a San Francisco Chronicle story detailing the police department’s hiring practices, including a waiver form in which potential police hires authorize background investigators to access “local criminal history information […] including if I have been a victim of sexual assault.”
The San Francisco Chronicle suggests that the waiver form has been in use by Oakland’s police department since at least 2012. The waiver form also allowed investigators access to an applicant’s school transcripts and credit history.
In a statement, Oakland Mayor Schaaf said, “sexual assault survivors have persevered through trauma, and their resilience is a character quality we respect, honor and welcome in Oakland.” She has called on the police department to work with the Oakland Police Commission in conducting a “top-to-bottom review” on the department’s recruiting practices “to ensure no other barriers discourage the hiring of women and minority applicants.”
Oakland Struggles To Recruit Women Police Officers
Like all police forces, the Oakland force has struggled to recruit women. Women currently make up about 12% of the national police force. In recent years, Oakland’s department has had between 11% and 14% women, in line with the national average.
Interviewed by the New York Times, Johnna Watson, a public information officer for the Oakland Police Department, said that being the victim of a sexual assault would not disqualify an applicant from being hired. Rather, the department was simply interested in looking up police reports in which the recruit might appear, she said. Odd, then, that the application does not ask whether or not applicants are victims of other crimes, like robbery or assault and battery. The form only mentions one crime: sexual assault.
Experts Say Question Filters Women From Police Force
The police department’s former policy of asking about sexual assault has been called odd, problematic and potentially illegal by law enforcement experts. It is not common. The San Francisco Chronicle polled 10 of the largest police forces in California and could find no other department that asked applicants to disclose whether or not they were sexual assault survivors.
“I was shocked they had that policy,” says Catherine Sanz, executive director of Women in Federal Law Enforcement. “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.” Sanz believes that requiring a disclosure of sexual assault could have a “chilling” effect on survivors who pursue careers in law enforcement.