Federal judge frustrated by slow Oakland police reform

September 22, 2011 7:59:34 PM PDT
A federal judge blasted Oakland city leaders Thursday, saying he is tired of listening to excuses and that its police department needs to make changes immediately. This comes almost a decade after the controversial "Riders" police abuse case first surfaced; it was the biggest police misconduct case in Oakland in memory.

The city settled a lawsuit which included instituting major reforms in the department, but federal Judge Thelton Henderson said he believes the department remains pretty much the same and he added he is losing patience quickly.

"I don't know and don't have real confidence that the kind of changes that we hope for are really taking place," said plaintiff's attorney John Burris.

Burris says the Oakland police are not moving fast enough to make the changes ordered by a federal judge.

It's the latest chapter in a saga that began in 2000 when four members of what prosecutors called a "rogue band of officers" were charged with planting evidence and beating suspects in Oakland. Three were fired. The fourth disappeared. Two prosecutions ended in mistrials. But a lawsuit filed by those who say they were victimized ended three years later in a $10 million settlement.

The department was also ordered to make changes to prevent future abuses. At Thursday's hearing, Henderson also said he was frustrated by the slow pace of change. He said, "The Oakland Police department is behind modern times? there is an attitude of resistance [to change]."

Also appearing at the hearing was Mayor Jean Quan who said she'll make sure reforms happen.

"I'm going to take responsibility for, as chief executive officer of the city, to monitor on an on-going basis whether or not a federal court agreement," said Quan.

Burris says what's needed is federal intervention.

"What the court can do is appoint a monitor to run the department, it's called a receivership, and essentially makes all decisions be made by that monitor," said Burris.

The hearing follows the release of a study by the federal monitor overseeing the reforms. It looked at 80 incidents in a three-month period in 2011 when officers drew their guns and most cases involved African-American suspects. The study concluded that in 28 percent of the cases, the individuals posed no threat.

Judge Henderson was appalled and said, "The level of the unnecessary draw of firearms is astounding."

Quan and Police Chief Anthony Batts told the judge that quick-draw incidents need to be scrutinized more closely to see if there needs to be more training or better supervision in the field. The chief also said there have been many changes that he's re-organized his department from top to bottom. The judge ordered everyone to come back in January for another status hearing.


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