Beleaguered Oakland Police Department Gets Three Chiefs in One Week

Monday, May 13, 2013
Former Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan

Just before Oakland prepared on Friday to swear in its third police chief in a week—that’s week, not year or decade—City Councilman Noel Gallo was heard to remark, “The thugs on the street are more organized than we are.”

Indeed. And some critics might add that it is one of the more distinguishing characteristics between the two.

Police Chief Howard Jordan surprised many in the department when he abruptly announced his retirement last Wednesday after 19 months in the job. Jordan said he was leaving because of an undisclosed medical problem. Four days later, the Bay Area News Group, which includes the Oakland Tribune, reported that Jordan quit when he learned he was about to be ousted by the federal “compliance director” who has appointed to oversee the department at the beginning of the year.

Immediately after Jordan stepped down, Deputy Chief Anthony Toribio was named acting chief. Two days later, Toribio was demoted to captain and replaced by 17-year department veteran Sean Whent, who will remain acting chief while the city prepares to search for a permanent leader.

Technically, the decision to shuffle chiefs was made by Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana. But they made their decision after meeting with the court-appointed department monitor Robert Warshaw and compliance director Thomas Frazier.

Frazier issued a scathing report a week ago that ripped the department’s top brass for a range of problems and called for sweeping changes. That report was followed by one put together by recently-hired consultant and former Los Angeles Police Department Chief William Bratton.

Bratton and his group recommended restructuring the department. They found it insufficient that there was only one part-time investigator to handle 13,000 burglaries in 2012, just one investigator of non-gun assaults, and only one lieutenant, a sergeant and eight investigators to handle 41,000 burglaries.

Oakland agreed to allow the federal monitor to effectively take over the department after it seemed certain that a federal judge was about to put it into receivership. Civil rights attorneys and department critics have been agitating for reform for years.

The city has been operating under a Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) and federal oversight since settling the Rough Riders civil lawsuit in 2003, which required the police department to institute 51 reforms.

The Rough Riders were a rogue group of officers whose behavior exposed widespread deficiencies in the agency and attracted national attention by planting evidence, using excessive force and falsifying police reports. The department continues to be the focus of repeated investigations and the subject of lawsuits claiming police abuse. Last year, the city council approved a settlement that awarded $4.6 million to 39 men who were publicly strip-searched by police from 2002 to 2009.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:     

Jordan Quit as Oakland Police Chief after Learning of Likely Ouster (by Matthew Artz and Thomas Peale, Bay Area News Group)

Oakland Police Brass in Major Shakeup (by Matthai Kuruvila, San Francisco Chronicle)

Oakland Police Dodge Federal Takeover, Sort of (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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