The recent drama surrounding the future of Oakland police chief Anthony Batts and other city officials brought court-ordered reforms to the Oakland police department to a standstill, according to a progress report filed this week.
The report, which is part of a nearly decade-long effort to change the culture and policies of the Oakland police, included open skepticism by a judge regarding claims that the Oakland PD will soon be in compliance with reforms ordered eight years ago.
“As this Court has heard so many times before, Defendants believe that they will soon be in full compliance with the reforms to which they long ago agreed and this Court long ago ordered,” the judge, Thelton Henderson, wrote. “Such rhetoric echoes that which has been repeatedly presented to the Court, including the exact same statement – that compliance will be achieved by December 31 – five years ago.”
The police department entered into the negotiated settlement agreement in 2003 after two civil rights attorneys brought a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the department for the victims of police misconduct in the Riders case, in which four rogue police officers were accused of regularly planting evidence and beating suspects in West Oakland.
The agreement requires the department to enact reforms in eight core areas, including internal affairs, use of force reporting and discipline. The original deadline was in 2005. But after two deadline extensions, the department still hasn't completed the 22 remaining tasks.
In a statement included in the report, the civil rights lawyers, John Burris and Jim Chanin, said they’ve seen zero progress in the past few months. They blamed the drama over Batts’ possible departure to San Jose and city attorney John Russo’s possible departure to Alameda, among other issues.
“There were a number of developments in the first quarter of 2011 that impacted progress compliance issues. The Chief of Police appeared to be leaving for San Jose and then was not chosen for the job there. He then indicated that he might not be committed to staying in Oakland," they wrote. "Defendants’ progress has been further complicated by efforts by the City Attorney to find another job and by indications that the current City Manager will be replaced.”
The lawyers also noted tension between the department and the independent monitor itself, despite the fact that the police department helped handpick the team, which is composed of law enforcement officials. Not a single member of the police department's command staff, including Batts, was present for the monitors' last meeting in Oakland, which occurs only four times per year.
The department’s last deadline included a stipulation that OPD be in compliance for at least a year by January 2012. Since problems at the police department persist, Burris and Chanin wrote that OPD effectively has already missed the deadline.
In Thursday’s statement, the lawyers indicated Oakland’s mayor Jean Quan may be able to propel faster change at the department. But they also proposed the monitors be given more power, including the authority to order changes, rather than just inquire and report on the department’s progress. Another possibility is federal receivership.
To avoid such a takeover, the city has proposed shuffling resources within the police department to prioritize the reforms. That may mean less focus on daily crime, but perhaps a faster conclusion to the long-standing saga.
They have requested yet another extension, until sometime in 2012.