Oakland Police Dodge Federal Takeover, Sort of

Monday, December 10, 2012

After a year of serious saber rattling in Washington, the troubled Oakland Police Department proclaimed last week it had dodged a bullet and wouldn’t be taken over by the federal government.

While it’s true that the department won’t be in federal receivership, the city’s settlement with attorneys seeking enforcement of decade-old mandated reforms forces it to hire a “compliance director” with broad powers that include the power to fire the police chief.

“I think it is fair to say that the mayor has lost control of the police department,” Frank Zimring, a criminal justice professor at Berkeley Law School, told the Oakland Tribune.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office called the new deal a “collaboration.”

The last-minute settlement with civil rights attorneys still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who had scheduled a December 13 showdown for his courtroom. The city has been operating under a Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) and federal oversight since settling the Rough Riders civil suit in 2003, which required the police department to institute 51 reforms.

The Rough Riders were a rogue group of officers who 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 month, the city council approved a settlement that awards $4.6 million to 39 men who were publicly strip-searched by police from 2002 to 2009.

In addition to being able to fire the chief, the compliance director would also have the authority to demote command staff, institute new policies, change practices and spend the city’s money (expected to be in the millions) on instituting reforms.

Outgoing City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, who voted against the deal, told the Tribune, “We basically caved and negotiated everything away just to avoid it being called a receivership. The cost of this is going to be immense.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Oakland City Officials Say They Avoided Federal Takeover of OPD; Agreement Spells out Different Story (by Paul T. Rosynsky and Matthew Artz, Oakland Tribune)

Deal Avoids U.S. Takeover of Oakland Cops (by Demian Bulwa and Carolyn Jones, San Francisco Chronicle)

Oakland Saves Face, Loses Grip on Police (by Chip Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle)

Oakland Police Union Rips Department as Feds Ponder Takeover (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Leave a comment