From: Oakland Tribune
City officials are weighing three options designed to reinvent the Citizens’ Police Review Board after the state Supreme Court ruled officer misconduct cannot be investigated publicly.
The first option, and the one preferred by executive director Joyce Hicks, would have the nine-member board operate much as it did before the Aug. 31 decision — but behind closed doors, away from the public and media.
Hicks said that option would give the officer and the complainant a chance to be cross-examined by the opposing side and to fully recount the story.
“It allows the parties the right to confront each other,” Hicks said.
Rashidah Grinage of People United for a Better Oakland, a police watchdog group, said it was the best choice in the short run while reform advocates work to reverse the Supreme Court decision.
Another option would allow only board members, its staff and lawyers to question the officer, complainant and any witnesses during the closed-door session. That is similar to how such hearings are conducted in San Francisco, Hicks said.
The final option would be to hold a series of meetings where the board, its staff and lawyers question the officer, complainant and any witnesses separately.
The options are being vetted by the City Attorney’s office and were presented to the review board by Hicks on Thursday. The matter is scheduled to be discussed by the City Council in closed session Tuesday.
Todd Simonson, an attorney representing the Oakland Police Officers Association, said he had not been consulted about the options, but he said he favored the third option because it came the closest to following his interpretation of the Supreme Court decision.
Simonson said the review board should operate like a civilian- controlled Internal Affairs Division, which releases only final determinations and interviews the complainants and officers separately.
After the Supreme Court decision was handed down, the police union threatened to sue the city, prompting the review board to suspend all misconduct hearings and its Web site that identified officers who had been accused of misconduct changed.
However, the review board’s staff has continued to investigate allegations of officer misconduct and their findings have been submitted to City Administrator Deborah Edgerly, Hicks said.
Police reform advocates have blasted the 6-1 decision, saying it curbs the public’s ability to root out corruption and hold police officers accountable, while dealing a blow to the public’s right to know.
However, police unions praised the decision for protecting police officers from frivolous lawsuits and aiding plaintiffs.
The review board’s semi-annual report, presented Tuesday to the Oakland City Council’s public safety committee, no longer contains the names of the officers who had complaints filed against them.
In the first six months of 2006, complaints to the review board fell 36 percent, as compared with the same period a year ago, according to the report.
Only 8 percent of complaints alleged officers used excessive force, Hicks said. Excessive force complaints against officers began to decline last year, she added.
The most frequent complaint claimed officers failed to act, most frequently while enforcing restraining orders.
Nearly 80 percent of the allegations of misconduct were made by African-Americans, with African-American males filing more than half of all complaints, Hicks said. The greatest number of complaints stemmed from incidents in the Downtown-West Oakland council district, she said.
Police Chief Wayne Tucker said the police department’s Internal Affairs Division has recorded a significant increase in the number of complaints filed as compared with last year.