Demian Bulwa and Matthai Kuruvila, 07/30/12
Oakland’s police force moved closer to a potential federal takeover Monday when a court-appointed monitor said a 10-year-old reform effort remained “almost stagnant.”
But the monitor, Robert Warshaw, went further in his latest quarterly report. He said new problems – the agency’s poor handling of Occupy protests and officer-involved shootings – raised “even greater concerns” about its ability to change.
Warshaw also revealed that photographs of a federal judge and an elected city official, posted on a bulletin board at police headquarters, had been defaced “in a manner that (internal affairs) found to be racist, insulting and inappropriate.”
Warshaw did not identify the judge or city official or say when the incident occurred. But he said the defacement outside the basement lineup room for patrol officers “strikes at the heart” of the court-ordered reforms.
Two sources familiar with the matter said the photos were of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who is Chinese American, and U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who is African American and is overseeing the reforms.
The department was ordered to make changes after four officers who called themselves the “Riders” were accused in 2000 of systematically beating and framing suspects in West Oakland. The federal consent decree began in 2003 and was supposed to last five to seven years but still remains in force.
Quan said Monday that a federal takeover was “not an option.” She said the city is acting aggressively to complete reforms, has made significant progress since Warshaw’s last visit, and would hire a consultant in police practices to help in critical areas.
She also said she’d convinced Warshaw to spend more time in the city – and give real-time feedback.
Quan said she had not heard of the defaced photographs.
Police Chief Howard Jordan, who took over in October, said the department has “made progress in many areas and will continue our efforts toward achieving full compliance.”
Overall, the department is in full compliance with 13 of 22 reforms Warshaw has overseen since his appointment in January 2010 – one more than last month. But Warshaw said emerging from federal court oversight will “require commitments not yet fully recognized by the Oakland Police Department.”
Jim Chanin and John Burris, the Oakland attorneys who represented plaintiffs in the civil suit that led to court oversight, said they plan to argue in October for a federal takeover, unless significant progress is made.
A hearing on that motion is scheduled for December in front of Henderson, who has grown increasingly frustrated with Oakland and has said he is prepared to impose more federal control.
“We’re at a point now where receivership is the only option,” Chanin said. “It’s not that we see it as a panacea, but it’s simply the only option that hasn’t been tried.”
“At this rate, compliance does not appear foreseeable,” Burris said. “Continued stagnation is unacceptable.”
Harry Stern, an attorney whose firm represents the Oakland police officers’ union, criticized the court-appointed monitor, saying he had made it impossible for the department to gain compliance by continually shifting the target of the reforms.
“Students of Greek mythology will recall Sisyphus,” Stern said, referring to the king condemned to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity, only to have it roll back down the slope.
“The monitors are actively, in my opinion, tossing the boulder down the hill,” Stern said. “The real issue in Oakland is the undeniable connection between the money squandered on the monitors and the tremendous increase in crime.”
Oakland is paying Warshaw’s firm, Police Performance Solutions of Dover, N.H., a total of $1.78 million in 2012 and 2013, records show.
The 89-page report by Warshaw, a former police chief of Rochester, N.Y., and deputy drug czar under President Bill Clinton, assesses the department’s progress from January through March 2012.
Warshaw criticized the way officers used chest cameras, among other things. He wrote that he was “troubled” by the number of officers who opted not to turn the cameras on when required, and was “further troubled” that supervisors had not cracked down harder on the lack of compliance.
The report also singled out an incident in which officers entered a home they mistakenly thought was connected to an arrestee who was on probation. Warshaw questioned why the department didn’t find fault with an officer who entered a bedroom and “pointed his duty weapon at a woman who had been sleeping with her 2-year-old child.”
In the incident involving the defaced photos, Warshaw said, an employee reported that he complained to a lieutenant and that the photos “were taken down within two days.”
However, Warshaw said, the lieutenant said he was never told of the photos and had fielded a different complaint from the employee – that his building access card had been canceled as retaliation for his status as a union steward.
Internal affairs investigators concluded that the lieutenant should have taken a report about the access card issue, but found “insufficient evidence to determine whether the lieutenant had knowledge of the photos,” Warshaw wrote.
Denials on photos
He said eight other lieutenants used the lineup room at the time, with each asserting they did not see the defaced photos.
“Either they were incompetent and did not know what was going on in their commands; or they knew, failed to act, and then lied,” Warshaw said. “The lieutenant failed to manage his command, and OPD failed to hold him accountable.”
Chanin said the public has the right to know what had happened, including who was depicted in the photos, how the pictures were defaced and how long they were displayed before being removed.
Warshaw did not go into detail about the department’s handling of Occupy protests and officer-involved shootings, saying he would produce separate reports on those subjects within the next three months.
Earlier, he raised questions about officers’ use of beanbag shotguns and other weapons during what he called a “military-type” response to Occupy demonstrations.