The Oakland Project

  • Hans Toch
  • J. Douglas Grant


Once a problem-oriented experiment has its foot in the door, how does it work? How are problem definitions arrived at? How do policemen ask scientific questions? How do they collect data and mesh these (if they can) with experience? How do they face tedious chores of analysis and inference? How do they deal with conflict, such as challenge to habits and to norms of their groups? How do they work through ideas for change? How do they sell such ideas to superiors? peers? bureaucrats? targets of programs?


Police Department Violent Offender Violent Incident Locker Room Hell Angel 
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  1. 1.
    J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers “the most violence-prone of all the extremist groups.” With regard to police violence, Bobby Seale has reminisced that “they (the police) wounded 60-odd of us, we wounded 32 of them. I think the reason we killed less and wounded less was because they had…more equipment” (Barclay, 1989). Huey Newton has said that the Panthers’ stance toward the police was influenced by Malcolm X. The derivative view “that blacks ought to defend themselves with arms when attacked by the police became one of the original points in the program of the Black Panthers” (Hevesy, 1989). Newton was involved in the killing of Oakland police officer John Frey on October 28, 1967, in one of several gun battles.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The second-generation members of the project (Chapters 7 and 8) were randomly selected—through multiple coin tossing—from officers who had accumulated high violent incident rates. The men were neither self-selected nor picked because they had special skills and interests. Moreover, it is difficult to argue that the project benefited from an evanescent Hawthorne effect, given that officers remained involved over a period of years.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Discontinuance of the innovation was a painful step for the department to take, and one that it took reluctantly. Skolnick and Bayley (1986) point out that As the department had to cut manpower by more than 100 between 1972 and 1979, virtually all of Gain’s innovative programs were cut from the departmental budget. Gain’s successor, George Hart, says that the “critical incidents” program [sic] was perhaps the most valuable of those cut. “But,” he explains, “we couldn’t afford it. The peer review panels usually occurred on days off, and the union required that we pay each panel member time and a half. I figured that each panel cost about $3,000. We simply couldn’t afford to continue this worthwhile program.”…“It’s true,” he says somewhat ruefully, “we don’t have a lot of programs. But it’s tough to have innovative programs during a period of economic austerity.” (pp. 151–152) The Oakland police began to experience violence problems almost as soon as the interventions were discontinued. Skolnick and Bayley (1986) note that “the worst year for the department, the absolute low, was 1979, when nine black males, including a fifteen-year old, were gunned down and killed by Oakland police” (p. 155). A large assembly was held in the wake of this incident, and “the Mayor wisely recessed the meeting as the anger and resentment reached a really frightening pitch” (p. 155). The problem to which our intervention was addressed had now again resurfaced. The department’s administration, according to Skolnick and Bayley (1986), “would like nothing better than to develop a predictive device to ferret out problem cops, potential users of excessive force” (p. 156). Such was one of the issues, two decades previously, that inspired Chief Gain to create the Violence Prevention Unit and to institute the peer review panel.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Toch
    • 1
  • J. Douglas Grant
    • 2
  1. 1.State University of New YorkAlbanyUSA
  2. 2.Social Action Research CenterNicasioUSA

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