Police reform and public safety advocates have paid close attention to Oakland’s progress–staggered though it’s been–under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (or NSA) that settled Oakland’s notorious police corruption case often known as the Riders Case. The settlement agreement was reached in 2003 and Oakland has struggled in the years since to make real progress on the 51 reforms it required.
But under court supervision, the strong leadership of OPD’s current command staff, and new policies that are helping rank-and-file officers build better relationships with our community, OPD reforms are stronger than they’ve ever been. Use-of-force incidents are down, civilian complaints are down, and civilian oversight is being bolstered with strong leadership and more resources.
The media coverage of this progress, and especially of the most recent report from Chief Warshaw, has missed many of the most important points.
First, the monitor repeatedly praises OPD’s policies and its execution of those policies. For example (from the most recent report), in discussing the very important Executive Force Review Board (EFRB), used to investigate officer-involved shootings and other major uses of force, the monitor reports:
[W]e have noted continued improvement with EFRB process. Of particular note has been the investigators’ demonstrated knowledge of the cases presented and professional police procedures. This is, in part, attributed to the specialized and extensive training the present administration has provided – and it is demonstrative of OPD’s commitment to addressing the serious issue of force. . . . [O]ur review of the case files has found the investigations to be thorough and the Executive Review Board schedule to be timely.
In a lengthy discussion of vehicular and pedestrian stop data and analysis to eliminate bias from such stops, the monitor states:
[W]e . . . applaud OPD for its continued engagement with Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford University. Dr. Eberhardt’s collection and study of stop data is an effort to understand whether, or the degree to which, bias may affect the interactions between the police and members of the public; and to develop appropriate training or intervention strategies. This forward thinking will undoubtedly be beneficial to OPD and the Oakland community.
Second, out of 51 “tasks” originally monitored in the NSA, OPD has been in compliance with 48 for more than a year, and is now under monitoring for only Task 5 (Complaint Procedures for IAD), Task 34 (Vehicle Stops, Field Investigation and Detentions) and Task 45 (Consistency of Discipline Policy).
But it’s really less than that. Taking these in inverse order:
Task 45 (Consistency of Discipline Policy):
This was the subject of the Special Investigator’s Report in April, rightly questioning why OPD wasn’t able to make discipline stick in arbitration. The Court expressed “disappointment and shock” at the Investigator’s report, saying “Many of the Investigator’s recommendations are obvious, or at least would be to anyone concerned with trying to improve the City’s arbitration success rate.”
What the Court didn’t explain was that the monitor repeatedly found OPD in compliance with Task 45 from October 2013 through July 2014, before becoming concerned about several arbitrations in October 2014.
The City is implementing the Investigator’s recommendations, and although details are not public, we understand that arbitration outcomes have already improved markedly. OPD and the City should be in full compliance with Task 45 very soon.
Task 34 (Vehicle Stops, Field Investigation and Detentions):
It is worth noting the exact requirements of Task 34:
- OPD shall require members to complete a basic report on every vehicle stop, field investigation and every detention. This report shall include, at a minimum:
- Time, date and location;
- Identification of the initiating member or employee commencing after the first year of data collection;
- Reason for stop;
- Apparent race or ethnicity, and gender of individual(s) stopped;
- Outcome of stop (arrest, no arrest);
- Whether a search was conducted, and outcome of search;
- Offense categories (felony, misdemeanor or infraction).
- This data shall be entered into a database that can be summarized, searched, queried and reported by personnel authorized by OPD.
- The development of this policy shall not pre-empt any other pending or future policies and or policy development, including but not limited to “Promoting Cooperative Strategies to Prevent Racial Profiling.”
– Negotiated Settlement Agreement VI. B.
Here’s what the monitoring team reports:
During our prior quarterly reviews of information to assess compliance with this Task, we reviewed random samples of various data and forms relating to stops. The sample size generally exceeded 350 stops and included Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) entries, Field Contact Cards, traffic citations, and Stop Data Forms.
We also reviewed the stop data forms to determine whether they were accurately and fully completed as required with the following information, 1) time; 2) date; 3) location; 4) identification of member making stop; 5) reason for stop; 6) apparent race/ethnicity of individual(s) stopped; 7) gender of individual(s) stopped; 8) outcome of stop (arrest or no arrest); 9) whether a search was conducted; 10) outcome of any search; and 11) offense category (felony, misdemeanor, or infraction). We gave special attention to the reason for the stop (No. 5) – essentially the fundamental justification for the interaction between the officer and the person stopped.
Our reviews of this data for our last several quarterly reports found sufficient valid justification for each stop reviewed; accordingly we have turned our focus to analyses of the data to identify indicators of racial disparity.
In other words, OPD is taking absolutely every step required by Task 34. Nonetheless, with no specific stated reason, the monitor finds OPD to be in “partial compliance” with Task 34.
Although the report doesn’t say so, the reasons seem to be racially disparate numbers of stops and searches, the overall number of parole/probation stops (although the monitor acknowledges these stops have a legitimate law enforcement purpose), a lower level of contraband recovery during probation/parole searches of African Americans as compared to Hispanics, and the inadequacy of OPD’s analysis of stop data. At the same time, as discussed above, the monitor praises OPD for its continued engagement of Stanford’s Dr. Eberhardt to provide such analysis.
Make Oakland Better Now! agrees with the monitor that OPD should continue to analyze its stop data and eliminate bias in vehicle and pedestrian stops. We agree that stops, while valuable, “can . . . be detrimental to overall community relations, and to community cooperation with crime control strategies, and . . . it is an area ripe for the employment of the tenets of procedural justice.”
But the fact that OPD can do even more than it does in these areas does not mean OPD is out of compliance with Task 34. OPD, based on the monitor’s own reporting, is meeting every one of the Task 34 requirements, and is in full compliance.
Task 5 (Complaint Procedures for IAD):
Here, there are 14 sub-tasks. As with Task 45, the monitor found OPD in full compliance four quarters in a row. After the investigator issued his report concerning arbitrations, the monitor deferred further evaluation of OPD’s compliance with the complaint procedures requirements.
Then, in the 21st report in May of this year, the monitor evaluated every single sub-task, found OPD in full compliance with every single sub-task, and then reported that despite this literal compliance with every requirement, and no criticism whatsoever, he was going to judge OPD as in partial compliance only because of the related Task 45 problems.
In short, as he has on many occasions, the monitor unilaterally re-wrote the requirements of a task and then, based on the new interpretation, found OPD out of compliance.
It’s not time to end police accountability and oversight efforts: it’s time to strengthen them by restoring full control of our department to the people of Oakland, under the guidance of the local leaders who are helping OPD make historic progress.
Chief Sean Whent, Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa, and the rest of their command staff have dedicated their careers to best-practices policing. They have put community policing at the center of how OPD grows and does its job. OPD’s relationships with the community are strengthening through violence-reduction programs like Ceasefire, which enjoys the support of the community, our officers, and all our elected officials. Oakland is already on track to continue this progress, to strengthen the bonds between police and the communities they serve.
As we noted above, and as the court has now reported, Oakland is in full compliance with 50 out of 51 NSA tasks. Once OPD shows sustainable compliance with Task 45, it will be time for the monitor, the Plaintiff attorneys, and the judge to acknowledge it is time for Court supervision to end, and for Oakland to once again carry the full responsibility and accountability for growing the police department our residents deserve.
Note: Links to all relevant NSA reports from 2010 to present are available without search or download charges or the need for a PACER account here.