From: SF Chronicle
By: Bob Egelko and Megan Cassidy , 08/22/2019
The federal judge overseeing Oakland’s efforts to combat racial discrimination in policing told the city’s mayor and police officials Wednesday that their current approach doesn’t seem to be working.
“The focus of the case is eliminating racial disparities,” and that goal “does not seem near,” U.S. District Judge William Orrick III said at a hearing in his San Francisco courtroom.
He cited a recent internal audit by the Police Department’s inspector general that found officers failed to report use of force against a suspect in more than a third of the incidents studied in 2018, and every one of the unreported incidents was against a racial minority, either black or Latino.
“I’m receiving reports from the city that are more optimistic than reality,” Orrick said. “I’m not interested in PR (public relations) justifications or press release status reports.”
Later, when Rockne Lucia, a lawyer for the Oakland Police Officers Association, praised officers’ work and said he had seen no evidence of “unconstitutional policing,” Orrick replied, “It’s all I see when I look at the racial disparities” in unreported uses of force.
Mayor Libby Schaaf told Orrick that “Oakland is unafraid to have this conversation about race.”
She commended the inspector general for pointing out problems in reporting use of force, and said the city is taking steps to “find and fix performance lapses and hold people accountable,” referring 55 of its officers for mentoring last year.
Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick offered more statistics: The department had received about 184,000 calls from the public for service this year and only 748 complaints. No Oakland officer has shot anyone in more than a year, and no officer has been arrested for drunken driving in the same period. There has been a “dramatic drop” in the number of motorists stopped by police. And since Schaaf appointed her chief in January 2017, she has imposed 9,300 hours of disciplinary suspensions and fired 14 full-time officers.
“This does not sound like an agency that is in deep backslide,” Kirkpatrick told Orrick. “This is police accountability.”
But John Burris, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the long-running federal civil rights case, said the unreported uses of force by Oakland police reflect a continuing “code of silence.”
The case began two decades ago, when a group of rogue officers known as the Riders were accused of planting drugs and beating suspects while patrolling West Oakland.
A federal civil rights suit settled in 2003 with a $10.9 million payout to 119 plaintiffs, as well as an order for the Police Department to comply with dozens of reform tasks. Judges presiding over the case have appointed a series of monitors to oversee the department’s compliance.
Oversight was initially expected to last five years, but a series of controversies — one involving a high-profile sex scandal with a teenager — stalled the department’s progress. Records show the city had spent more than $16.6 million on the federal monitor and related fees by the end of 2018.
By the beginning of 2019, the embattled department seemed on the cusp of at last securing full compliance. There were just three partial tasks to go, involving internal affairs’ complaint procedures, data on whom police stop, and consistency of discipline.
But, the department began losing ground in March, in the aftermath of the controversial 2018 police shooting of Joshua Pawlik. Federal monitor Robert Warshaw re-opened a task involving the department’s Executive Force Review Board, finding its investigation of the Pawlik case inadequate.
In the following months, Warshaw rescinded the full-compliance status of three more tasks; those dealing with timeliness in internal investigations, use-of-force reporting and use-of-force investigations. There are now seven tasks that remain out of full compliance.
The inspector general’s recent audit “should be troubling to the Department, the City, and the community,” Warshaw wrote in his latest status report. “It remains to be seen if forthcoming policy revisions and other changes ... will have a positive outcome on this issue.”
Lawyers for the city questioned some of Warshaw’s criticism in a court filing Wednesday, saying he cited no examples of the department’s supposed backsliding. But Orrick said at the hearing that Warshaw and his staff were “the eyes and ears of the court” and he has “complete faith in them.”