So who will have ultimate authority in the Oakland Police Department? The city? The federal government? Or plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit against the department?
All of the above, it seems.
In an unprecedented deal, the city has agreed to submit the department to the authority of a new compliance director. While the city will pay the director’s salary, the director will answer to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson and indirectly to the plaintiffs as well as the city.
All this assumes that Henderson – who asked the city and plaintiffs to reach some kind of agreement – will approve the deal they presented on Wednesday.
The deal avoids putting the department into federal receivership, a fate that had been hanging over it since it agreed to reforms requested by the plaintiffs in their 2000 lawsuit. Henderson has expressed a growing impatience with the pace of the city’s progress in coming into compliance with the consent decree.
But since the compliance director has the authority to fire the police chief, the difference between being in receivership and this new agreement is a little hard to discern.
In a conversation with KQED’s Tara Siler, plaintiff’s attorney John Burris made it sound like the distinction was nominal.
“The city never wanted the term receivership to be used. Compliance director seemed to be a term they were more comfortable with. But from my point of view, it didn’t matter what you call it. The compliance director from my point of view has a responsibility that would be very much the same as a receiver.”
Barry Krisberg, a University of California Berkeley law professor, told Siler that “it looks awfully like receivership.”
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Police Chief Howard Jordan said:
(T)he difference between a receiver and compliance director is that under a receiver the city would have had no say in who that person would be or what they could do. With a compliance director, the city can nominate candidates for the job and work with the appointee to help meet goals.
There is at least one other subtle difference. Rather than running the day-to-day crimestopping operations of the department, the compliance will be focused on, well, compliance.
The agreement calls on the compliance director to set goals around seven areas of concern:
1) Racial profiling
2) Firearms pointed “at minority citizens.”
3) Citizen complaints
4) Incidents involving the use of force
5) “Drawing and pointing of a firearm at a person.”
6) Shootings by officers
7) High-speed chases
“The police officers themselves, and the command people, they’re the ones that would be doing the police work,” said Burris.
The plaintiffs will get reports monthly about the progress the compliance director is making and can appeal to Henderson if they aren’t satisfied, Burris said.
The compliance officer can spend up to $250,000 without approval.
The agreement calls on the department to install new technology that collects data about incidents in which police make stops or use force.
Can a new compliance director bring a close to this long chapter in the department’s history?
“Movements like this don’t change the culture of an organization,” said Krisberg. “Success is going to depend on the skill of the person who is appointed by the parties.”
The agreement calls on the plaintiffs and the city to agree on a candidate for compliance director. If they can’t, they’ll submit the matter to the judge. Krisberg thinks it has to be someone with law enforcement experience in a city.
Beyond that, getting themselves out from under court supervision will depend a lot on the police officers themselves. “Essentially it’s going to depend on how long it takes the Oakland Police Department to accept and internalize the best practices in the field,” said Krisberg. “One person by themselves even with federal court power is not going to get that done.”
Listen to Tara Siler’s story