Scandal-Plagued Oakland PD Blasted for Lack of Reforms

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — In the wake of a police sex scandal exposing Oakland’s dysfunctional system for disciplining officers even after a federal judge ordered a system overhaul, members of the public safety committee questioned Tuesday whether city agencies were taking the reforms seriously.
     The Oakland Police Department and the city attorney’s office, which work together to investigate allegations of police misconduct and uphold their disciplinary decisions at arbitration, must submit quarterly reports to the City Council detailing their progress in revamping the discipline process.
     On Tuesday, the agencies submitted their progress reports at a meeting of the public safety committee.
     The police department’s report was signed by former police chief Sean Whent. Both that report and the city attorney’s findings were dated May 17, 2016, just before it was leaked that Oakland police officers had been passing an underage prostitute among them for months and top brass had allegedly ignored it.
     Although he did not reference the specific misconduct, in March U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson issued an order handing the police department’s investigation into the allegations to a court-appointed monitor, citing “irregularities and potential violations” in the department’s handling of the investigation.
     Public Safety Committee chair Desley Brooks chastised the two agencies on Tuesday for submitting outdated reports that failed to address the botched investigation.
     “In the ensuing time, there has been tremendous change in the police department and yet no update to account for it,” Brooks said. “To give us the exact same report from months ago is inexcusable.”
     Brooks questioned how the police department and city attorney’s office mismanaged the investigation given the recent placement of a deputy city attorney within the police department’s internal affairs division to assist with disciplinary investigations.
     “It is unclear to me given the increase in the staffing we provided, the attorney that is supposed to be working with the [police] department on every level, how is it that the city attorney’s office did not bring any of the scandals to the city’s attention,” Brooks said. “How did we get all these scandals and the city attorney’s office knew nothing about them?”
     Ryan Richardson, who supervises the labor employment unit of the city attorney’s office, countered, “We were aware obviously of the investigations.”
     Henderson ordered an investigation in 2014 into why arbitrators reverse so many of Oakland’s police discipline decisions after two Oakland officers who were fired for using excessive force — one fatally — had their terminations overturned. He appointed San Francisco attorney Edward Swanson to make recommendations for reforming the discipline system.
     Swanson had recommended placing a city attorney in the police department to facilitate collaboration between the agencies in the discipline process.
     Turning to the topic of arbitration, Richardson said arbitrators were now upholding the discipline recommended by his agency and the police department 53 percent of the time, double the city’s win rate of 27 percent prior to instituting Swanson’s reforms.
     But Brooks questioned Richardson’s figures, saying the city attorney’s office had inflated them by looking at five years of arbitration results instead of the requested three months. Breaking out the years produces lower win rates, she said.
     According to Henderson and Swanson, the police department and city attorney’s office have a legacy of mismanaging police discipline investigations and arbitrations. In a January order, Henderson wrote that the court-appointed monitor had found that a police investigator in one misconduct case ignored damning video evidence in order to absolve his colleague of wrongdoing, and a supervising officer implicated in another case helped conduct the investigation.
     Meanwhile, the city attorney’s office had a habit of waiting until the last minute to begin preparing for arbitration cases, hiring outside counsel with no experience in police discipline arbitrations and giving them only days or weeks to prepare, according to Swanson.
     One arbitrator ruled that the city had acted “arbitrarily, capriciously, and in bad faith” by going to arbitration unprepared, Swanson wrote in his report.
     The two agencies said in their reports that they had finished implementing a key reform calling for considering whether a supervising officer “ordered or caused misconduct to occur,” and whether the supervisor failed to supervise and discipline the officers accused of misconduct.
     Until recently, police investigators only considered whether an officer had witnessed or knew of misconduct but didn’t report it, and more often than not, they didn’t document whether they had looked into the issue.
     Asked by Councilmember Dan Kalb when the police department began incorporating the expanded definition of supervisory discipline into its investigations, the department’s research and planning manager Tim Birch said it had formalized it over the last six months but that “it has always been there to some degree.”
     According to the department’s progress report, that formalization consists of inserting a section in its investigation reports for documenting the role of supervisors in misconduct. The department is also developing “a process” to determine whether supervisors adequately supervised and disciplined their charges.
     Despite the shortcomings in Tuesday’s progress reports, Acting Assistant Police Chief David Downing expressed support for the disciplinary reform process, saying that giving fired officers their jobs back risks public safety.
     “I want them to stay fired,” he said.

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