Monitor: Oakland Police backsliding on reforms
on October 16, 2012
The Oakland Police Department has slid backward in its nearly decade-long effort to comply with court ordered reforms, the independent monitor of the department wrote in a quarterly report released Monday.
The most significant finding was that the department’s system for tracking the risk of police misconduct among police personnel “is not being effectively used by Department management,” the independent monitor wrote. The department was previously on track to implement this system successfully, according to the report.
The computerized tracking program logs information about each officer, including sick leave, instances of use of force, officer-involved shootings, and situations in which they shoot their guns during lawful training or such recreational activities as hunting trips. The goal is to proactively identify officers showing warning signs of misconduct and get them help before an issue arises, Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said at an August neighborhood safety meeting.
“We are dismayed by the level of compliance reflected in this report, as should be the Department and the City of Oakland,” wrote Robert Warshaw, the independent monitor, in his report. “We can only characterize the current condition in the Department as one of stubborn resistance to compliance with an Agreement made long ago: an Agreement that simply enumerates concepts common in police agencies across the country.”
If the department fails to comply with the reforms, it risks a federal takeover.
The reforms, being monitored by Warshaw, a former police chief who once served as associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, are part of a 2003 Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) stemming from a trial known commonly as the Riders Case. Four veteran officers who called themselves the Riders were charged with planting evidence, beating suspects and making false reports, resulting in a more than $10 million settlement as well as the agreement under which the police department promised to make more than four dozen reforms to prevent future abuses.
Earlier this month, local lawyers John Burris and James Chanin, who had filed the civil suit against the city in the Riders case, filed a motion to place the department under partial federal receivership to ensure that the remaining reforms will be completed.
Most people—including police officials, community members and the attorneys involved with the suit—say they do not know what receivership could entail.
“No one knows what will happen if we go into federal receivership,” Jordan said at the August neighborhood safety meeting. “There’s never been a police department to do this. Schools and prisons, yes, but not police.”
The city of Oakland has until November to respond to the attorneys’ motion for receivership, and a federal court hearing in San Francisco is scheduled for December 13, when U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson will hear arguments about whether to place the department into receivership.
Burris said he saw a draft of the monitor’s most recent report prior to filing the motion for receivership, and that the findings reaffirmed their decision.
“The report itself suggested that the city was not making significant progress in getting compliant,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “This last report is really reflective of other reports and such, it was argued that progress was not going to be made in a way that the department was going to be compliant in the near future.”
According to the new report, the OPD has adequately reformed departmental policy for all 22 tasks being currently monitored, which include investigation of officers’ use of force in the field by a review board, and a board review of gun discharges when related to in-custody deaths, vehicle pursuit deaths or any other “potentially lethal incident.” When it comes to actual implementation of changes, though, the department is in compliance with only 12 of the tasks. It is in partial compliance with seven others, and out of compliance when it comes to implementing the computerized system tracking at-risk police officers.
The process of implementing the NSA-mandated reforms has now dragged out for nine years. In that time, two teams appointed by the court to monitor OPD’s compliance with the reforms have produced dozens of reports; the quarterly report released this week is the eleventh.
While the department has inched forward on many of the reforms, the latest monitoring team, headed by Warshaw, has expressed palpable frustration at the inability of OPD to comply with the reforms.
“The Department finds itself in this state not for lack of equipment, or resources, or personnel, but for the seeming lack of commitment to the core principles that are at the foundation of an Agreement that is now a decade old,” Warshaw wrote in the report published Monday.
Warshaw, as well as independent investigators commissioned by the city, had previously criticized the police department’s aggressive response to Occupy Oakland protests last year, questioning whether OPD was complying with the settlement agreement. A special report released by the independent monitor earlier this month called the department’s response to Occupy “troubling.” The report focuses on topics that were already under scrutiny in the NSA, like the OPD’s investigation of use of force by police officers and supervisors’ lack of technical proficiency or experience to review Internal Affairs investigations stemming from Occupy Oakland.
Jordan announced Friday that the department would be seeking disciplinary action against 44 members of the department, including firing two officers, based on complaints from Occupy Oakland.
In the monitor’s report released Monday, the monitoring team temporarily deferred making a determination on whether the department was responding quickly enough to internal investigations within OPD. However, the monitor emphasized that while the task would be deferred, its progress was still important.
“The failure of the Department in its acknowledged limited capacity to address its Occupy Oakland-related complaints is a deficit and blemish that cannot go unaddressed,” Warshaw wrote.
The team also declared that it would wait to assess Oakland’s progress on an NSA-ordered reform to revamp office field training programs, since the police department has only just restarted its academy to recruit new officers that could benefit from the training.
Barry Donelan, the head of Oakland’s police union, said the report observed–correctly, in his view–that the backward progress on the reforms largely stemmed from police leadership, not from frontline officers. He noted the computerized personnel system for monitoring at-risk officers as an example.
“You can’t expect police officers to understand I.T. (information technology),” he said. “It’s a very damning regression away from full compliance, and it’s disheartening for officers who are out there serving the citizens every day.”
OPD spokesperson Sgt. Chris Bolton declined to comment on the findings, deferring to city administration.
Mayor Jean Quan said in an interview Tuesday that she was “dismayed” that the monitor did not look at other areas of progress the police department had been working on since the last report.
Quan said the police department had been working hard to follow up on complaints filed against police during Occupy Oakland protests, and pointed to Jordan’s recent announcement of disciplinary measures against officers involved in the protests as signs of the department’s improvement.
“To say that we’re not working hard on compliance is really unfortunate,” she said.
She also said the department’s diverse current police academy—many are bilingual, and from minority backgrounds—and a switch to civilian handling of complaints against police are additional steps the department has taken to try and make progress.
The monitor’s report cites data taken until the end of June 2012. Quan said that since June the department has made even more progress that is not reflected in the report; and that things like revamping the Personnel Assessment System, which identifies at-risk officers, require a technological overhaul—something that takes time, but that the city is actively working on.
“What you’ve got to see is over the years, we’ve gone from maybe five out of compliance to maybe one out of compliance,” Quan said. “It’s not like we haven’t made any progress at all.”
The monitor also released a separate report earlier this month criticizing the OPD’s investigation of officer-involved shootings. The report details nine recent shootings and concluded that in some cases police investigators showed a lack of impartiality, a lack of timely notification to the Internal Affairs department, and a bias that officer-involved shootings were justified unless proven otherwise.
Oakland North will continue to follow the story.
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