Chip Johnson, 11/19/12
The Oakland Police Department is sliding fast toward a federal takeover of some kind or another.
You might think this would be the kind of thing the rank and file would strongly fight. But get this: They’re practically begging for a takeover.
The police union, in a filing with U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, said the department’s leadership was useless, even dangerous. Henderson will preside over a Dec. 13 hearing that could determine the future of the department.
The 29-page filing wasn’t written to add to Oakland’s woes or as an attempt to sandbag the city’s case, said Rocky Lucia, a partner in Rains Lucia Stern, the law firm that represents the Oakland Police Officers Association.
Lucia said the law firm produced the document because it couldn’t be sure that city attorneys – who are defending the city against a possible police department takeover – would address specific issues facing its police officer clients, some of whom have been the subjects of official misconduct complaints.
“We all want a functioning Police Department,” said Lucia, whose firm represents about 120 police officers associations across the state.
“We represent Fresno, San Francisco, but the cops in Oakland believe that with all the guns and violence on the streets that the next car stop could be their last,” he said.
Given the breadth of problems facing the city, from governance to crime, Lucia isn’t certain Oakland leaders are up to the task.
“The problems facing the city are much bigger than a receiver,” Lucia said in a phone interview Monday. “A judge can’t fix (all) the problems.”
The legal dilemma stemming from the city’s inability to satisfy an almost 10-year-old court agreement is a by-product of the dysfunction that has seeped into every aspect of city governance.
Officers, public at risk
City leadership’s failure to recast the Oakland Police Department isn’t local government’s only failure in recent years.
Oakland has paid out tens of millions of dollars in police abuse claims since a 2003 case in which more than 100 victims of police abuse filed a lawsuit against the department and a group of rogue Oakland cops who called themselves the Riders. Just last week, the city paid $4.6 million to 39 defendants whose civil rights were violated when police forced them to drop their trousers in public searches.
Oakland’s Office of Information Technology left officers in the field with unreliable radio service for almost two years. Finally, and perhaps most important, the city has failed to maintain a minimum number of police officers in the field in spite of a 2004 parcel tax measure approved by voters for that very reason. That failure has placed officers and citizens at risk and has contributed to the department’s inability to retain veteran officers or give young officers time to gain the experience needed to become a seasoned, wise street cop.
No magic solution
Last week, union officials representing Bay Area TV camera crews told local stations they would no long film news stories in Oakland without being accompanied by security guards.
That’s not a positive sign that Oakland city officials have come any closer to solving the most obvious and glaring issue before them. It also makes Oakland look like a city in a Third World nation.
There’s no magic solution here. Handing over control of the police to a judge or a federally appointed receiver doesn’t address the city’s deeper problems. It just passes one problem along. Leadership must come from inside Oakland’s highest elected offices.