Federal judge approves OPD oversight agreement

December 13, 2012 11:53:20 AM PST
A federal judge Thursday approved an agreement to have a powerful outside compliance director oversee the Oakland Police Department and its implementation of reforms mandated by the settlement of a 12-year-old civil rights lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco signed an order providing for the compliance director and canceled a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

The judge wrote, "The court is hopeful that the appointment of an independent compliance director with significant control over the OPD will succeed -- where city and OPD leaders have failed -- in helping OPD finally achieve compliance" with the 2003 settlement.

The compliance director will have the power to demote or fire the police chief, as well as to set an action plan for carrying out reforms such as reducing incidents of police use of unjustified force and racial profiling and improving investigations of citizen complaints.

The establishment of compliance director is one step short, however, of the more drastic measure of creating a federal receivership to take over the department entirely.

The proposal was agreed to last week by city officials and lawyers for 119 citizens who sued the city in 2000, and was submitted to Henderson for approval.

Before reaching the agreement, lawyers for the plaintiffs had previously asked the judge for a receivership to take partial control of the department because of the slow pace of reform.

Henderson ordered the two sides to submit sealed recommendations for compliance director candidates by Dec. 21 and to try to agree on a recommendation.

But he said the selection of a director "rests solely in the court's discretion" and will not be limited to the recommendations.

Henderson scheduled a status conference for June 6 to discuss progress in compliance with the 2003 settlement.

He warned in the order that if the Police Department fails to make acceptable progress under the compliance director, he will consider remedies that could include imposing fines, expanding the director's powers or establishing a full receivership.

The 2000 lawsuit alleged that four officers known as "the Riders" beat citizens, made false arrests and planted phony evidence between 1996 and 2000.

The settlement reached three years later called for 51 reforms, including increased field supervision of police officers, better training, and improved investigation of citizen complaints.

Mayor Jean Quan, City Administrator Deanna Santana and Police Chief Howard Jordan issued a statement saying they welcomed the order and looked forward to "continued and enhanced collaboration with the court."

"We are thankful to Judge Henderson for the opportunity to work collaboratively with the parties, and for his judgment in support of the plan which the City, the police union and the plaintiffs' attorneys jointly proposed," the officials said.

"Judge Henderson has granted us the support for which we asked, and in turn we reiterate and renew our commitment to reform, and to sustaining and improving strong relationships between the Oakland Police Department and the communities it proudly serves," the executives said.

John Burris, a lawyer for the citizens who sued, said last week that the plaintiffs' attorneys hope the new plan will move the Police Department in a positive direction.


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