Independent Monitor Says Police Department is Backsliding

Robert Warshaw
Mayor Jean Quan
Police Chief Howard Jordan
Judge Thelton Henderson

By Ken A. Epstein

The Oakland Police Department’s performance is “unacceptable” and shifting “from stagnation to decline” on several key federal court-ordered reforms – especially failing to remedy commanders’ insufficient oversight of officers’ use of force, according to a new quarterly report issued by independent police monitor Robert Warshaw.
“A common thread that again runs through many of the (reforms) that have not yet achieved compliance levels deals with critical supervisory and investigative tasks,” said Warshaw in the Jan. 30 report, the 12th quarterly update he has produced.
The failures are related to the responsibility of officers “to report misconduct by other officers” and the ability of supervisors “to critically evaluate the use of force by the officers they supervise,” Warshaw wrote.
The monitor’s oversight is part of the legal resolution of the Riders Scandal, an ongoing civil rights lawsuit in Federal District Court regarding police misconduct in Oakland, overseen by Judge Thelton Henderson. In 2003, the city entered into a settlement requiring OPD to comply with a series of reforms, which remain uncompleted.
“While we respectfully disagree or hold concerns with some of the methodologies and findings of the monitor’s report, we have already made progress discussing them with Monitor Warshaw,” said Police Chief Howard Jordan. “We plan to continue working through our concerns with his team in February, and we look forward to doing that work together.”
Looking at the failure of commanders to properly supervise during the Occupy Oakland protests and arrests, the monitor found that none of seven cases included “an analysis of the accountability of any supervisor above the rank of sergeant, leading us to question where the other officers, supervisor, or commanders were while the sustained misconduct occurred,” he said.
“The investigation did not include any review of the demonstration response planning by OPD command,” Warshaw wrote.
The report also cited  four other investigations that did not “sufficiently or completely analyze the role of the supervisor involved – the improper detention of a subject and (sustained) allegation of racial profiling; a vehicle pursuit where the officer intentionally struck the subject; the use of a canine where improper commands were given; and the use of a force in striking a mental patient.”
“In each of these cases, OPD did not sufficiently analyze the role of the supervisor in the misconduct. It was not until each of the four cases made it to the Force Review Board that the Chief of Police identified the supervisors’ misconduct.”
The reforms, “which are not now in compliance … address issues at the very core of Constitutional policing…. One thing should be clear from the long history of this agreement: stagnation – and, now, decline – will not diminish the court’s expectation, or the monitor’s resolve that the department live up to the terms of the agreement,” Warshaw wrote.
Mayor Jean Quan in a statement Thursday pointed to disciplinary action against a number of officers in Occupy-related cases as a sign of progress.
She said those actions proved the city was serious about curbing police misconduct. “That’s a much stronger story,” said Quan, who added that her goal was to have the department emerge from court oversight within a year.
City officials also say they look forward to the appointment of a court-appointed compliance director who will have wide authority over OPD.
“The compliance director is not yet in place, but we expect that to happen soon,” said Chief Jordan. “The administration and the plaintiffs’ attorneys submitted nominations for candidates to that role on January 11, as directed by the court. We await Judge Henderson’s decision and are pleased to be moving forward.”