Bay area city governments cannot afford to ignore Oakland’s struggles with police reform. The Oakland Police Department is under the control of federal judge Thelton Henderson and his appointed monitor. Oakland refers to him as the “compliance director” rather than the “court-appointed receiver”. This arrangement, which features a stripped-down police chief, handcuffs Oakland’s ability to deliver effective Police services.
Oakland’s Police Department (OPD) is dysfunctional because of its own inaction and lack of accountability. In 2000, attorneys sued the city and individual police officers in the notorious “Riders” case, a group of Oakland police officers who terrorized West Oakland, under the guise of fighting crime. Oakland settled with the 119 plaintiffs for $11 million and agreed to implement 51 police reforms.
Regrettably, after 7 years of ignoring the reforms, the city paid $1 million a year to the court-appointed monitor who faithfully reported how the city failed to implement the reforms.
In 2010, the court appointed a receiver to run the department, taking control away from the city.
After spending more than $15 million to fight reforms, Oakland still won’t address a process to identify problem officers, internal investigations and eliminate racial profiling. The city would rather pay millions for police misconduct while no one is held accountable.
The lesson is: Implement basic control of the Police Department accountability and other simple reforms and funds are available to make citizens safer.
Talk about the inmates policing themselves. Oakland’s city auditor claims to investigate city mismanagement and the lack of performance, yet there has been no audit of the millions spent by OPD for a failed computer tracking system.
The OPD’s $200 million budget, nearly half of the city’s general budget, is a major drain because 92% of the police officers live outside the city.
Six reforms that can make a difference:
1) The city auditor should divert her resources from petty investigations and do a performance and budget audit of the Police Department and identify basic cost savings reforms that will put more officers on the street.
2) Oakland should hire civilians, instead of patrol officers, to investigate nonviolent crimes such as auto thefts and burglaries. 3) Establish civilian review of the Police Department, implement the internal investigation reforms, and eliminate the obscene current condition of more internal investigators than homicide investigators. 4) implement the remainder reforms so that the department is freed from federal jurisdiction and cost.
5) Implement technology that will improve police services. Keep the shot tracker program in place. Yes, put cameras throughout the city of Oakland. This technology exposed the Rodney King beating, the Boston marathon bombers, freed a New Jersey driver, and the out-of-control Albuquerque Police Department. 6) The city should require every police car and officer to have cameras that records every citizen interaction.
Every city has to show the courage to implement reforms that run an efficient department and accountability of its officers. Money without reforms will not reduce crime.
Clinton Killian is an attorney at Oakland downtown Oakland law firm Fried & Williams LLP and former public official. He can be reached at [email protected].