Judge orders stricter oversight for Oakland Police Department

Following a federal judge’s decision on Tuesday, the Oakland Police Department must now relinquish some of its executive powers to the monitor in charge of overseeing court-ordered reforms within the department.

Late Tuesday night, federal Judge Thelton Henderson issued an order instructing Interim Police Chief Howard to “regularly” consult with independent monitor Robert Warshaw about anything that could affect compliance with a federal consent decree. According to the order, this would include changes in policies or tactics, as well as personnel decisions such as promoting or disciplining officers.

For the past two years, Warshaw and his monitoring team have had a purely observational role at the OPD, evaluating and assessing the department’s decisions and performance. But now, they will assume the additional authority of recommending action when it applies to the federal consent decree.

The OPD has been under court monitoring since 2003, following the settlement of a civil suit against the city regarding four police officers known as the “Riders,” who were accused of planting evidence and making false arrests. As a result of the settlement agreement, the department entered into a consent decree and agreed to implement a series of 51 reforms meant to improve its accountability, training and internal investigations, often referred to as the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, or NSA. A group called the NSA Independent Monitoring Team was established to oversee the department’s progress and to give quarterly compliance reports to the court.

Nine years and three missed deadlines later, the OPD has yet to achieve what department officials agreed was doable in no more than five. In his order, Judge Henderson wrote that the department is “woefully behind its peers around the state and the nation” and that “the time for delay has long passed.”

Under Henderson’s order, Jordan must immediately begin meeting with the monitor regarding any major decisions that could affect compliance with the settlement agreement. If, after consultation with the monitor, Jordan decides to take action against the recommendation, the monitor must meet with the city administrator and the mayor. If both city officials decide to go against the monitor’s directions, the court may step in and order them to comply.

In a statement released by City of Oakland officials this morning, Mayor Jean Quan said, “We believe that the expertise of the monitor, coupled with the new leadership in the police department and the City Administrator’s and my commitment to further incorporate the requirements of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement into OPD’s culture, will move Oakland into compliance as quickly as possible.”

In the same release, Jordan stated: “The path forward will be guided by an actionable plan. We will seek engagement on moving forward quickly with guidance from key stakeholders, including the plaintiffs, the workforce, the Police Officers Association, and the community we serve.”

Neither Chief Jordan nor Mayor Quan responded to requests for additional comments. Calls for comment to the Oakland Police Officer’s Association were also not returned.

Judge Henderson canceled a hearing on the case scheduled for Thursday, saying he understood the positions of all the parties involved and did not deem it necessary to review these statements again.

Last week Jim Chanin, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the Riders civil suit, asked Judge Henderson to set a date for when his office could file for a motion on federal receivership. Were the OPD to undergo this receivership, it would mean that the department would lose its authority to make managerial and operational decisions. Instead, a group of law enforcements experts appointed by the US District Court would be in charge of those decisions for the department.

In his order, Henderson stated that if increased monitoring is not sufficient to move the OPD into full compliance with the 51 reforms, federal receivership could still be considered, but not until August 1, 2012 at the earliest. That will allow the monitor to issue two more quarterly reports (one in April, one in July) that will include a complete analysis of the actions taken by OPD officers during the Occupy Oakland events.

In a preliminary examination of Occupy-related police activity from its eighth quarterly report, which was issued on January 17, Warshaw stated “I cannot overstate our concern that although progress on compliance has been slow, even those advancements may have been put in doubt in the face of these events.”

Chanin, an Oakland resident of 31 years, said that while he is never thrilled to see the OPD fail, he is pleased with the steps that Judge Henderson took Tuesday. “It was the only possible thing that could be done, given the failings of the Oakland Police Department, short of taking away their power entirely and putting it under receivership,” he said. ”Hopefully we won’t get to that next step.”

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