By Andrew Cohen
David Onek, founding executive director of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice (BCCJ), has been appointed to a four-year term on the San Francisco Police Commission. Onek was appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and unanimously confirmed by the city’s Board of Supervisors.
“David brings a wealth of criminal justice experience and expertise to the Police Commission,” says Newsom. “He is a strong consensus-builder who is widely respected in City Hall, in the police department, in the community, and by national criminal justice experts.”
The Police Commission, which sets policy for the police department and conducts disciplinary hearings on charges of police misconduct, meets every Wednesday night in San Francisco City Hall.
“Serving on the Police Commission is a perfect complement to my work at the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice” says Onek. “I will be engaging in many of the same policy issues that we focus on at BCCJ, but from a different perspective.”
Onek brings a high level of inside knowledge to his appointment, having led numerous criminal justice policy initiatives as Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in San Francisco. In that position, he interacted closely with all levels of the city’s police department as well as many community groups throughout the city.
Previously in his career, Onek worked to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile justice system in 10 sites throughout the country as a senior program associate at the W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice Fairness and Equity. He was also a Skadden fellow and staff attorney at Legal Services for Children in San Francisco, and researched and developed model juvenile justice programs as a research associate at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
At his nomination hearing, Onek listed four priorities he will bring to the Police Commission: enhancing police-community relations, reducing street violence, improving the police department’s technology and data analysis capacity, and increasing professional development opportunities for city police officers.
Onek received glowing endorsements at the hearing from over a dozen colleagues, including BCCJ faculty board members Jonathan Simon ’87 and Charles Weisselberg. Weisselberg hailed Onek’s “deep knowledge of criminal justice issues” and “deep understanding of the police department and local government.” Allen Nance, former director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said he “was one of most dedicated and hard-working public servants I’ve ever met.” San Francisco Chief Probation Officer Bill Siffermann called him a “true professional” who had “provided key support on juvenile justice reform, violence prevention, and community engagement issues.”
Onek has pushed BCCJ to research, develop, and advance innovative criminal and juvenile justice law and policy approaches through collaboration with policymakers, practitioners, and scholars. The center’s current projects focus on increasing employment opportunities for people with prior convictions, drafting policy briefs and legislative recommendations on key juvenile justice issues for California legislators, and reducing street violence in specific San Francisco and Oakland neighborhoods through partnerships with law enforcement and the community.
“When our program director was murdered, David was the first non-staff person to call me to offer his condolences and support,” testified Takai Tyler, executive director of the community-based Hunter’s Point Family, at Onek’s nomination hearing. “He understands the issues from the practical application on the street all the way up to the policy level.”