Mayor Jean Quan and Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts joined forces Thursday to respond publicly to a federal judge’s warnings about possible unjustified use of force of Oakland police officers.
“There is nothing more important than this,” Batts said during Mayor Quan’s weekly press briefing at City Hall on Thursday. “We will not take a defensive position on the court findings.”
Hours before the press conference, the three Oakland officials attended a hearing at the Northern California District Court in which they responded to Judge Thelton Henderson’s review of police use of force in Oakland. The hearing was part of a formal settlement agreement, overseen by the court, that is intended to monitor and improve procedures and services of the city’s police department.
Quan said Thursday that the city’s government has addressed 17 of 29 actions originally set out in the federal court agreement in 2003, which include police training, reviews on discipline, and compliance with police codes and regulations.
“Some processes have been incredibly slow,” she said. “I won’t deny that. I’m as frustrated as anyone. I told the judge we have made progress. We have improved. But we still have a long way to go.”
The Oakland Tribune reported that during the hearing, Judge Henderson said he sees “an attitude of resistance” in Oakland Police Department toward complying with the reform tasks of the agreement.
According to the Tribune’s news report, Henderson “has threatened to put the department under federal control” if it doesn’t complete the reforms.
Henderson informed Oakland officials the court had found about 28 police reports in which officers did not “articulate their reasons to draw their weapons.”
Police Chief Batts told reporters at Thursday’s briefing that when he became the head of the Oakland Police Department, he found that many police officers did not explain their reasons for pulling out their weapons or for certain seizures.
“We had to go back and retrain our officers so they know how to articulate what they are doing and why they are doing it,” Batts said. “If they are not doing it right, we will hold them accountable.”
Batts said the Police Department will evaluate its current weapon use, and compare its code with the codes of the ten most important cities in California.
The 2003 federal court agreement followed the “Riders” controversy, in which four Oakland police veterans were accused of assaulting and abusing West Oakland residents in the course of their police duties.
Batts said Oakland officials and Judge Henderson had discussed the possibility of hiring consultants to evaluate tactics and procedures of the police department.
“I want to go outside and bring in, not consultants, but police executives from other agencies to take a look,” he said.
Judge Henderson also raised concerns about strip-searches conducted by police officers, Batts said.
Batts said that when he arrived at his new job in Oakland, he learned that at times city police officers would order suspected drug dealers to pull down their pants in public places, so that officers could conduct a form of strip search.
“That was appalling,” Batts said. “I would not want that to be done to my children.”
Batts said he put constraints on search processes in 2010 to keep this from happening again.
Henderson has ordered the Oakland Police Department and the city administration to give the court a report in 2012 on its progress toward implementing the reforms called for in the agreement.
When asked about her stand on the City Council’s proposals on curfews and gang injunctions, Quan said she will support measures as long as they are affordable within the city budget.
“I’m not against curfews per se,” she said. “We just need to have enough resources to implement these proposals. In the end of the day it all comes to the funding,” she said.