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Feds fed up with OPD

By Elecia Holland - Tower Staff Writer
On February 16, 2012

  Since 2003, the Oakland Police Department has been under Federal court monitoring because of a "Negotiated Settlement Agreement" (NSA) instituted by the courts in the infamous "Oakland Riders" case of 2000.

  The verdict of the case found four officers guilty of a myriad of misconduct charges, some of which included planting evidence and falsifying police reports.  

  As a result of the NSA, the OPD was required to implement over 51 different reforms, including how to address officer misconduct, use-of-force reporting, and an overhaul of disciplinary procedures concerning police officers.  

  To date, the OPD has failed to meet a majority of the requirements of the NSA and Judge Thelton Henderson of the Northern California district Court, who oversees the federal monitoring, is not happy.  

  On January 24, 2011, Judge Henderson issued a new order to increase the federal monitoring that would allow for Robert Warshaw, chief of the federal monitoring committee for the past two years, to step into a more supervisory role.

  Howard Jordan, Oakland's chief of police, must now report to Warshaw before making any decisions or changes within the department; this includes hiring and firing officers as well as any implementation of new plans by police to control the general public.

  Initially, federal monitors were put in place purely to "observe and report" on findings within the department on a quarterly basis.  

  However, in recent reports concerning the Occupy Oakland protests, Warshaw wrote, "We were, in some instances, satisfied with the performance of the department; yet in others, we were thoroughly dismayed by what we observed."

  He continues, "I cannot overstate our concern that although progress on compliance has been slow, even those advancements [in place] may have been put in doubt in the face of these events."

  On Jan. 28, 2012, the OPD dispersed tear gas, bean-bag projectiles, and smoke devices into crowds of protesters on the corner of 10th and Oak Streets, near the Kaiser Convention Center and only a half block from Laney College.

  The confrontation, which started in late afternoon, continued late into the evening.

  The federal monitoring teams overseeing OPD stated in its report, "The events around Occupy Oakland appear to raise some serious concerns about the capacity of the Department to, on its own, adopt and hold true to the best practices in American policing ... For the moment, we find ourselves facing an uncomfortable reality: The path forward is not clear."

  Judge Henderson initially gave the OPD until 2014 to comply with reforms, but in light of recent activities, he has given the department until the end of March 2012, or else federal receivership hearings will begin.  

  "The Court remains in disbelief that Defendants have yet – nine years later – to achieve what they themselves agreed was doable in no more than five years," Judge Henderson wrote in his ruling this January.  He went on to say that he hopes "these intermediate measures will be sufficient to move Defendants into full compliance."

  Although many large police departments in the U.S., including SFPD and LAPD, have been under federal monitoring, none has ever gone into federal receivership.  Under federal receivership, the OPD would lose its power to operate the police department.

  Instead, the federal courts would appoint new staff to run and operate the department, as well as follow through on implementing reforms mandated by the courts. This could mean a loss of jobs for some police officers, but also could lead to a complete rejuvenation of the department as a whole.

  Judge Henderson's new order also extends to Mayor Jean Quan.  She too is now limited in her decision-making role concerning any actions taken by the OPD.  This includes her plans to increase police presence in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods with her  "100 blocks" initiative.

  In the annual "State of City" address on Feb. 8, 2012, which was closed to the public, Jean Quan remarked on the federal monitoring case by stating, "We also have to get the city and the police force in compliance with constitutional policing," she said. "We have nothing to fear from changing our practices, exploring our practices and learning from our mistakes. We can protect and respect the rights of our citizens in the city."  Mayor Quan has come under fire for her handling of the Occupy, leading to a recall petition.

  Recent statements made by Mayor Jean Quan on behalf of the city of Oakland, indicate that the current department along with the mayor are confident that they will meet the standards of reform that are being demanded.

  "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." she said.

  The recent federal monitoring teams have stated that Occupy Oakland shows whether or not the OPD is truly reformed. "After more than eight years under Federal Court supervision, we cannot help but view the events of Occupy Oakland as a test of the reform mettle of this Department," the reports said. "As we complete this report, we cannot help noting that, in our years on task here, we have reported little measurable progress by the Department," it states.

  "We also remind ourselves that our task should, in fact, be quite simple: We monitor a process initiated with an agreement between the Parties about what would be done. It would be difficult for anyone to explain – let alone justify– the current state of affairs."

  A federal takeover is quite rare, but it could truly be in the best interests of Oakland.

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