College students and recent graduates are asked, “What was your major?” almost as often as they check some form of social media. As a Psychology and Legal Studies double-major, I have grown accustomed to the initial confusion or long pause that follows; however, after a moment of reflection I usually hear, “That’s interesting, and you know what, it totally makes sense!” I have greatly enjoyed exploring the overlap between these subjects. That said, I could never have anticipated that I would gain an understanding of just how important the overlap between these two areas was during a police ride-along.
As a Matsui Fellow for the Oakland City Attorney’s Office I had the opportunity to ride-along with an Oakland Police Officer. Filled with excitement, I arrived at the Police Department at 5:30 AM, just in time to attend the officer’s “line-up” for the day. The purpose of the “line-up” is to hand out assignments and catch everyone up on important news. I was assigned to Beat One. I learned that “Beat” simply meant neighborhood, and that I had to quickly adapt to their lingo if I really wanted to understand what was happening all day.
During my ten-hour shift, we received a myriad of calls, but what struck me was the high volume of “5150” calls that we received. “5150” was the designation for persons with potential psychiatric issues, and with each call, I was able to connect my academic training with real world experience. I was I able to learn about various disease manifestations, but more importantly I came to understand how that influenced the legal action taken by the officer.
One call in particular stood out because it involved not only a 5150, but it was located at a hotel that I had spent time researching and reviewing for a case assignment just a few weeks earlier. I was able to gain a deeper understanding of how psychiatric illnesses are considered by law enforcement and the legal system, and I was also able to incorporate knowledge that I had learned on the job.
While the ride-along was certainly a highlight, being a Matsui fellow has allowed me to explore many aspects of the legal system. For example, while most of us are familiar with the catchy Schoolhouse Rock lyrics of, “I’m Just a Bill…” a recent work assignment allowed me to experience it firsthand. A fellow law clerk and I were tasked with working on AB 1147. AB 1147 is currently before the California Senate and deals with the legality of massage parlors. I was responsible for reviewing the proposed bill and identifying areas of interest to the City. The intricacies of the bill analysis make for less than page-turning reading, but suffice it to say that (after many tight deadlines and revisions) I am not only well-versed in the education requirements for massage therapists, but am now more familiar with the legislative process outlined in the aforementioned song. Not only was this an exciting and challenging assignment, but it seemed especially well-suited for a post-graduate interested in an advanced degree in law or public policy.
As my time at the Oakland City Attorney’s Office comes to a close, I am even more grateful for this incredible opportunity and all the experiences being a Matsui Fellow has afforded me. The continuous overlap between my prior academic training, my passions, and my future interests assures me that this placement was a perfect fit. Not only have my worlds collided in unexpected ways, but also they have expanded, broadening my knowledge and awareness, and assuring me that public service is what I want to continue to pursue.
Kenna Falk just graduated from UC Berkeley with dual degrees in Psychology and Legal Studies. She is currently interning with the Oakland City Attorney's Office as a Matsui Local Government Fellow.