An agreement that calls for a compliance director to oversee the Oakland Police Department was needed because the department moved far too slowly in complying with reforms that were mandated nearly 10 years ago, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case said Thursday.
James Chanin said he and co-counsel John Burris sought to have an outside person oversee the department because, “We got tired of waiting.”
Chanin said the agreement reached on Wednesday after several weeks of negotiations includes conditions that make Oakland the first city in the U.S. that he knows of that would allow a court-appointed director to have the authority to demote or even fire its police command staff, including its police chief.
The Police Department was required to make a series of reforms, such as increased field supervision, better training and improved investigation of citizen complaints, as the result of the Jan. 22, 2003, settlement of a lawsuit filed by 119 Oakland citizens who alleged that four officers known as the “Riders” beat them, made false arrests and planted evidence on them in 2000.
The settlement also included payments of $10.5 million to the plaintiffs and their attorneys, Chanin and Burris.
Chanin said Oakland officials promised to try to complete all the mandated reforms within five years and in a maximum of seven years but although the city has complied with many of the reforms it’s still a long way from completing all of them.
Burris and Chanin had been seeking a federal takeover of the Police Department that would involve having a receiver oversee it, but Chanin said he’s happy with the agreement reached Wednesday calling for a compliance director to oversee the department instead of a receiver.
Chanin said having a receiver oversee the department would have resulted in micro-management of it, would have been too expensive and would have excused the department’s leadership from doing its job.
The agreement reached Wednesday must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who has been overseeing Oakland’s compliance with the 2003 settlement.
Chanin said if Henderson approves the agreement, the judge would appoint a compliance director after getting input from the city and from the plaintiff’s attorney.
He said the director would report directly to Henderson, would work full-time until the reforms are completed, would be independent of the city and would have the power to demote or fire the police command staff.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said in a prepared statement, “We’re glad to be working toward our common goals of accelerating compliance, improving our crime-fighting efforts and bolstering relationships between the police and the community.”
Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said, “We believe the proposed order filed today is consistent with our commitment to expedited compliance with the (2003) settlement and sustainability of long term reforms. We look forward to working with all parties to support effective crime fighting and constitutional policing in Oakland.”
Rocky Lucia, the lawyer for the union that represents Oakland police officers, said the agreement gives officers a bigger role in the reform effort.
Lucia said the police union has had little input on implementing the mandated reforms other than on collective bargaining and due process issues, but under the proposed agreement the compliance director would be required to meet with the union’s president at least once every three months to get input from rank-and file officers.
“We’re enthusiastic about having the opportunity to have a voice in complying with the reforms,” Lucia said. h the mandated reforms and we hope this will provide greater clarity of what’s expected of rank-and-file officers.”