Matthai Kuruvila, 05/03/13
The court-appointed overseer of the Oakland Police Department has prescribed sweeping changes, including at least $1.8 million in training and equipment to strengthen the force and bring it into compliance with decade-old reform requirements.
Thomas Frazier, who was appointed compliance director in March, believes the changes will allow the department to emerge from federal court oversight and transform it into one that practices constitutional policing.
Central to Oakland’s problems, Frazier writes in his 59-page report, is a department leadership that fails to supervise its officers and discipline them when they break rules – problems he says sustain a culture tolerant of abuse.
“Executive leadership must send a clear message to the rank and file that misconduct by one reflects poorly on all,” Frazier wrote in his plan, in which he outlines training as part of the solution to changing the culture.
The report is Frazier’s first official statement on how he wants to bring the department into compliance with court-ordered reforms imposed in the wake of a police abuse scandal in 2000 known as the Riders case. Three Oakland officers were tried on criminal charges that included obstruction of justice, assault, kidnapping and filing false police reports. But they were never convicted; a jury acquitted one of all charges and juries deadlocked on charges involving the other two. A fourth officer fled to Mexico and remains a fugitive.
As part of a $10.5 million settlement with 119 plaintiffs in a federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from the Riders case, the city agreed to court oversight on various systemic issues within the department.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys in the lawsuit settlement have remained heavily involved in the court oversight of Oakland police and said they were pleased by Frazier’s assessment.
“He has exactly defined the problems that have led us to 10 years of this,” said Jim Chanin. “The people at the top have not been adequately supervised or disciplined for failing to do their job as supervisors.”
City officials declined comment on various details, but did issue a statement.
Oakland police officers have long complained about the department’s woeful technology and the City Council’s failure to fund it.
“This action plan will help us build on that progress and accelerate our work toward achieving full compliance,” said Mayor Jean Quan, Police Chief Howard Jordan and City Administrator Deanna Santana.
Sean Maher, a spokesman for Quan, said the city does not object to paying for the items Frazier wants. The only question is the order and timing of the expenditures.
Plan’s line items
Frazier has power to spend $250,000 unilaterally, and each of the individual items in his action plan totaled less than that amount. Some did not have cost estimates.
The expenditures Frazier plans include:
— The hiring of outside experts for issues including use of force, racial profiling, technology and personnel management.
— Training for internal affairs investigators, captains, lieutenants and “future leaders” within the department.
— Equipment costs, such as Tasers, to fully equip the police force, better laptops in patrol cars, radio-system repairs, better fingerprint technology and new crowd control weapons.
The expenses hint at the breadth of Frazier’s role. He’s arguably the most powerful figure in Oakland policing because of his court-sanctioned powers to direct the city administrator, demote deputy chief and even seek the firing of the police chief.
Many of the technology items in Frazier’s plan, like police radios or patrol car laptops, are not specifically mentioned in the settlement agreement. But U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson has given broad latitude to Frazier, who acknowledged in his report that his plan goes well beyond the scope of the agreement and seeks to strengthen the department and set it on a course to success.
Many rank-and-file officers have complained of the department’s woeful technology and the City Council’s failure to fund it. Now, the city will be forced to address the technology issue.
“Somebody needs to make law enforcement and public safety a priority in Oakland,” said Rocky Lucia, an attorney for the Oakland Police Officers Association. “The compliance director is doing that, and it’s refreshing to see.”
John Burris, one of two plaintiffs’ attorneys involved in the case, said the various purchases Frazier wants for the department seemed to make sense.
The outside experts Frazier wants to hire would address long-standing issues, such as a warning system to identify officers repeatedly accused of using excessive force.
“The things he’s asking for are not unreasonable,” Burris said. “You want to get into compliance, but you want to get into compliance in a way that these changes are sustainable.”
Chanin, the other plaintiffs’ attorney, who has lived in Oakland for more than 30 years, questioned whether the increase in Police Department spending would cut away from other city services, including parks, libraries, city infrastructure and even more police officers.
“I’m a homeowner,” he said. “I’m acutely aware of the fact that Oakland does not have a lot of money. If they’re talking about spending large sums of money on Tasers and not enough money for core issues, then I’m opposed. As a citizen.”