Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, right, is seen with Mayor Jean Quan.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File
OAKLAND, Calif. -- After more than a decade of failing to meet a federal judge's order to reform its police department, Oakland became the first U.S. city Wednesday to willfully surrender authority over its command staff to a court-appointed director.
The federal officer, whose official title will be compliance director, would have wide ranging powers to force Oakland to fully comply with a decade-old reform plan that settled the infamous Riders police brutality scandal.
The agreement, which still must be approved by a federal judge, will not displace Oakland's current police brass.
However, in order to ensure that the reforms are pushed through, the federal officer will have the power to fire Chief Howard Jordan, overrule him on major decisions, demote his command staff and order expenditures of up to $250,000.
The compliance director's powers are far more broad than those of a current federal monitoring team, which only reports on the department's progress in achieving reforms.
The agreement includes several major concessions by city leaders to two civil rights attorneys who represented victims of the Riders in an $11 million civil case and negotiated the reform plan that was designed to bring accountability to a department dogged by racial profiling and brutality scandals.
The city had initially proposed that the compliance director have no authority to spend city money or discipline the command staff.
"It's really up to
the city how much federal control there will be," attorney Jim Chanin said. "If they can't deliver (on the reforms), we now have someone who will deliver."
U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson had scheduled a hearing for next Thursday to consider potentially even stricter federal oversight of the police department. Oakland officials said Wednesday they expect Henderson to instead consider the settlement agreement at the hearing.
City leaders said the agreement safeguards city finances by restricting the compliance director's spending power and lets them work in partnership with the director, rather than ceding total control of the department.
"The city can help shape the new police department," Jordan said. "This will help move our department into the 21st century."
Mayor Jean Quan said she didn't anticipate the federal compliance director frequentlyoverruling Jordan. "This is something we want for Oakland," she said. "We have a stake in making this work."
The Riders case involved four officers accused of beating up and framing drug suspects in West Oakland and then writing false reports to hide their transgressions.
In settling the civil case, the city agreed in 2003 to make 51 reforms to help the department better police itself. But the department's progress was slow from the start. This year, the federal monitoring team said police had stalled on key tasks such as tracking problem officers, reporting the use of force and performing internal affairs investigations.
And despite the reform effort, the department has continued to face scandals and lawsuits that have cost Oakland an estimated $46 million over the past decade, more than four times as much as San Jose.
The settlement agreement nearly mirrors the proposal Chanin and attorney John Burris sought from Henderson earlier this year. The major difference is that the federal officer won't be a "receiver," which typically command broad budgetary authority.
"We wanted greater oversight of the department," Burris said. "We're just going to call it something else."
The city would have to pay the compliance director's salary.
The director would not have power to change the police union's contract. Any move to fire the chief or demote a deputy could be appealed with the matter going to Henderson.
The director would be required to get the city to complete the reforms by the end of 2013.
The director also would set benchmarks for making progress and reducing problem areas for the department, including racial profiling, use of force cases and incidents of officers pointing their firearms at minority residents.
Copyright 2012 - Contra Costa Times
McClatchy-Tribune News Service