Despite setbacks, judge says department has shown improvement

Oakland — A judge this week dashed hopes expressed by police officers, city leaders and civil rights lawyers earlier this year that the Oakland Police Department might finally begin to drop its 20-year-long federal oversight.

US District Judge William Orrick said during a hearing on Wednesday that the police department still has a way to meet court-ordered reform goals.

“While I know that despite the good faith and hard work of the chief and command staff, there are still significant areas of non-compliance, and some of them are straight-up improvements and need to be corrected to reach adequate compliance. , ”said Orrick. “I am frankly disappointed that they have not arrived yet.”

Wednesday’s court hearing was the latest in several check-ins between the judge, top police and city officials and attorneys who in 2000 filed a lawsuit against Oakland after a group of Oakland police officers known as “the Riders” held federal citizens. Rights suit was filed. Beating up black residents, drugging them, and tampering with records.

The trial led to a settlement agreement that placed the police department under federal oversight until it complied with 52 reform measures established by the court.

Last summer, the lawyers who filed the lawsuit — John Burris and Jim Chanin — said they believe the police department has made big strides in reforming itself and Urick urged to end inspection, But soon after, a law firm issued a investigation report It was highly critical of the department’s late response to the revelation that a former officer had created an Instagram account with racist and anti-feminist messages, and that several executives had interacted with the account.

Investigators at the law firm Clarence Dyer & Cohen found that a lieutenant became aware of the Instagram account in September 2020 and notified the department’s Intelligence Unit. However, police officials conceded that the account, which invited other officers to follow the page, may have been an “antifa or BLM-type trap” or an attempt by activists to “infiltrate” their department. Maybe, the investigators wrote.

As a result, intelligence officers monitored the account for several months and did not launch an investigation until January, when a reporter for The Oaklandside began asking questions and a lawyer showed images of interim police chief Susan Mannheimer from the report.

At the time, Mannheimer “immediately recognized that the images were objectionable and should be investigated thoroughly,” the investigators wrote.

Chanin said during Wednesday’s hearing that if a reporter had not traced the Instagram account, it may never have been properly investigated or acted upon.

“The Instagram investigation uncovered several disturbing problems. What worries me most is the failure of leadership in the department to realize the corrosive impact of that account and how it undermined everything the NSA intended to accomplish,” Orrick said. “It was evidence of cultural rot. It undermines my belief that the achievements I was talking about are sustainable achievements.”

Oakland Police Chief Leron Armstrong said he was also disappointed. “We share the same sentiment that you expressed regarding the Instagram scam and behavior by some people in the department,” he told the judge.

Orrick said he also believes the police department needs to handle internal affairs and force investigations more quickly and ensure that officers continually activate their body cameras. .

Assistant Police Chief Darren Allison responded that the department is getting new body cameras that will activate automatically so officers don’t have to remember to turn them on.

In a previous interview with this news organization after becoming chief last February, Armstrong said he is committed to the department following all reform measures within a year. While that hasn’t happened, Oric, Chanin and Burris all acknowledge that the department has improved over the past five years, such as stopping at 74% fewer black residents and 60% fewer Latino residents.

“It is true that African Americans continue to be stopped at a higher rate than other Oaklanders, but the trend-line is undeniably positive, and solid data indicates that there is some systematic bias within the OPD department to be addressed. doing work.” Plaintiff’s lawyers wrote in court documents.

Orrick also noted that the disparity of discipline among officers has decreased. Evidence was presented earlier in the surveillance period that black officers were more likely to be disciplined than white officers. And, Orrick said, the department has been increasing the variety of recruiting classes recently.