By Ken A. Epstein
Federal Judge Thelton Henderson has ordered the Oakland Police Department to consult with a court-appointed monitor before all major decisions, moving OPD a step closer to a federal takeover.
Henderson, a judge for the Northern District of California, issued the order giving far-reaching powers to the monitor, Robert Warshaw, an independent consultant and former federal drug-enforcement official.
Henderson said he “remains in disbelief” that the police department after nine years has still failed to adopt court-ordered reforms. His latest ruling comes less than a week after the release of a report that found “serious concerns” about the department’s handling of the Occupy protest and its capacity to “adopt and hold true to the best practices in American policing.”
“This is an important step forward, letting the monitor participate more actively,” said Oakland attorney John Burris, who has part of the case since he helped craft the consent decree that placed the police under the federal monitor.
“This is the last chance for the department to get its house in order, before someone else steps in to run it,” he said. “The department has to understand that business as usual will not be accepted.”
Under Henderson’s order, OPD must now consult with the monitor before making decisions such as buying equipment, promoting and disciplining officers and changing policing policy and tactics.
Henderson said he would place the department under federal receivership in July if the city does not overhaul the department under the new arrangement. Receivership would seize control of the police agency from local leaders and put it the hands of a court-appointed expert.
The mayor and police chief promised compliance.
“We believe that the expertise of the monitor, coupled with the new leadership in the Police Department and the city administrator’s (office) 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,” Mayor Jean Quan said in a prepared statement.
“The Oakland Police Department belongs to the community,” Police Chief Howard Jordan said. “The path forward will be guided by an actionable plan.”