Oakland Police Department placed under court control
A federal judge has placed Oakland Police Department reform efforts under his direct control, citing nearly a decade of inadequate attempts to comply with a legal settlement in a case that unmasked systemic police brutality and racial profiling.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson on Wednesday signed off on an eleventh-hour agreement reached last week between the city and plaintiffs’ attorneys under which he will appoint a full-time “compliance director” with sweeping powers to dictate changes related to the case.
That director will have the ability to order expenditures of up to $250,000 without city approval, revamp police policies pertaining to required reforms, demote personnel or order other staffing changes. With Henderson's approval, the director would even be able to fire Police Chief Howard Jordan if progress to revamp the department stalls.
Plenty of police departments have faced federal consent decrees and mandated reforms, but this marks the first known instance in recent decades in which a judge has stepped in to take over an agency's key decision-making authority when reforms failed, plaintiffs' attorneys said.
The case pertains to a group of officers known as "The Riders" who framed and beat suspects in West Oakland. The city paid $10.9 million to 119 plaintiffs in the case, and a settlement agreement was implemented in 2003 mandating a host of specific reforms to department culture and practice.
The city has complied with a number of them. Years later, however, key changes have not occurred, including an early-warning system to detect problem officers, a revamping of the internal affairs division and the collection and analysis of data to avert racial profiling.
In a joint statement, Jordan, City Administrator Deanna Santana and Mayor Jean Quan applauded Henderson's approval of the settlement and said officials were "re-energized in our efforts to improve public safety while building greater trust between the community and the police department."
-- Lee Romney in Oakland
Photo: Oakland police square off against Occupy protesters in May. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images