Police union leader ‘confused’ by city’s response to Occupy Oakland protesters

The head of the union that represents Oakland’s police officers said today that officers are “very confused” about what he said are mixed messages from the city’s leaders about the Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall.

“Someone needs to step up and lead the city,” said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, of the Oakland Police Officers Association.

In an open letter to Oakland residents, Arotzarena said that on Oct. 25, Mayor Jean Quan ordered police “to clear out the encampments at Frank Ogawa Plaza and to keep protesters out of the plaza.”

He said, “We performed the job that the mayor’s administration asked us to do, being fully aware that past protests in Oakland have resulted in rioting, violence and destruction of property.”

But Arotzarena said that on Oct. 26, the following day, “the mayor allowed protesters back in — to camp out at the very place they were evacuated from the day before.”

To add to the confusion, he said, Quan’s administration issued a memo on Friday giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off during a general strike scheduled for Wednesday.

Arotzarena said, “That’s hundreds of city workers encouraged to take off work to participate in the protest against ‘the establishment.’ But aren’t the mayor and her administration part of the establishment they are paying city employees to protest?”

Arotzarena said, “It is all very confusing to us.”

Quan’s office said city employees who want to participate in the strike are asked to request approval from their supervisors and use leave or a floating furlough day, or taking time off without pay — sick leave won’t apply.

Arotzarena said the city has ordered all of its 645 police officers to show up for work on Wednesday, including those who were scheduled to have the day off.

He said it cost more than $1 million for police to respond to the Occupy Oakland protests last week and that taxpayers will be on the hook for additional costs for responding to the general strike on Wednesday, which protesters say will include an attempt to shut down the Port of Oakland.

City leaders said late last week that they didn’t yet know the cost of the police response to the protests. City Administrator Deanna Santana said the state will reimburse the city for the mutual aid cost of having other law enforcement agencies help Oakland police.

Arotzarena said, “We respectfully ask the citizens of Oakland to join us in demanding that our city officials, including Mayor Quan, make sound decisions and take responsibility for these decisions. Oakland is struggling — we need real leaders NOW who will step up and lead — not send mixed messages.”

A spokeswoman for Quan wasn’t immediately available for comment today. Quan said on Friday that she didn’t yet want to crack down on protesters who are camping out in Frank Ogawa “if closing the camp would create more violence.”

She said “it’s a complex situation” and that city officials “have to make an assessment day to day.”

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