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Oakland Police Face Mounting Pressure to Reform on a Tightening Budget

Rank and file's officer-of-the-year award for discharged sergeant is a symbol of growing mistrust between officers and leadership

Oakland Police

Last fall, after 21 years at the Oakland Police Department, Sgt. Robert Glock was fired for dishonesty.

About a month later, in an action that infuriated officials in the department, the rank and file voted him officer of the year.

Glock’s award, characterized as a protest by some who voted for him in the union-sponsored contest, is an apt symbol for a police force whose longstanding problems seem to be getting worse by the day.

The department is still trying to show a federal judge that it is serious about reforms mandated in 2003 in the wake of the Riders case, in which four rogue officers were found to have planted drugs on suspects. Three deadlines have come and gone.

Anthony Batts was celebrated as a charismatic change agent when he took the helm of the department nearly two years ago, but he severely undermined his standing late last year when he interviewed for, but did not get, the chief’s job in San Jose. Batts has tense relationships with city officials and the court-ordered monitors overseeing the Riders case reforms, and he has repeatedly said that the department could not do its job effectively without more money.

There is not any additional money, though, and 80 officers were laid off last summer. Between the layoffs and attrition, the department has lost about 140 officers in the last 18 months. The total of sworn staff members is just 662 now, and some specialized units have been disbanded. Crime rates have soared: Murders are up 50 percent, and shootings have risen 44 percent. Complaints have mounted about slow response times and neglect of lower-level crimes.

“This is now a crisis,” Batts said of the reforms at a court hearing this month.

The pressure to cut costs further while carrying out department-wide reforms has pushed morale to a new low and undermined trust in the department leadership. As the tensions have bubbled, officers have rallied around an unlikely hero, Glock, and in the process further alienated the command staff.

The case of Glock — a popular officer who colleagues say was simply overwhelmed by unrealistic expectations — appears to be a microcosm of the department’s dysfunction.

Glock became the subject of an internal affairs investigation last year after he was caught approving felony arrests by telephone, police sources said. Such approvals were a clear violation of the negotiated settlement agreement that the department entered into in the wake of the Riders case. The agreement, or NSA, requires supervisors to respond in person to all scenes of arrests for felonies, narcotics-related offenses and situations where an officer has used force.

People with knowledge of the investigation said that between paperwork and various procedural requirements, many linked to the NSA, Glock said he did not have time to appear at the scene of every felony arrest — a sentiment that resonated with the rank and file. They said the misconduct became a terminating offense when Glock lied to investigators about it.

“They told me when I first came on, you can beat people and crash cars and you’ll get in trouble, but you’ll never be fired for it,” a former internal affairs commander said. “But if you lie about it, you’ll be fired.”

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