July 31--OAKLAND -- With Oakland's control of its own police department potentially hanging in the balance, the federal monitor overseeing the force questioned its willingness to reform itself and raised concerns over photos posted at police headquarters of a federal judge and elected official doctored "in a manner ... found to be racist."
"The defacing in a racially offensive manner of the photographs of public officials -- or for that matter anyone -- in the Police Administration Building strikes at the heart of the (reform effort)," wrote the monitor, Robert Warshaw, in a report released Monday.
Warshaw did not disclose the identities of the officials whose doctored images appeared on a department bulletin board, nor did he describe how the images were racist. However, sources said they believed the images were of Mayor Jean Quan and Thelton Henderson, the African American U.S. District Court judge who later this year could determine whether to place the department under federal control.
Overall, Warshaw found that police did make slight progress over the first three months of this year implementing court-ordered reforms instituted nearly a decade ago to bring the department up to par with national standards.
But the progress was offset not only by the photos, but by the findings of a damning external investigation into the department's handling of Occupy Oakland and additional concerns about its handling of officer-involved
Warshaw, a former U.S. deputy drug czar, said documentation of police work and adequate supervision from top officers remained issues. He also cautioned department brass that real reform involves more than "checking off compliance (goals) with predetermined tasks."
"The pursuit may be aided by those goals," he wrote, "but achieving progress will require commitments not yet fully recognized by the Oakland Police Department."
Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said the department was still reviewing the report and was not ready to comment on it.
This was the monitor's last quarterly report before attorneys are scheduled to file a motion in October asking Henderson to strip Oakland's control of its police department. Hearings on the motion are tentatively scheduled for December.
"There's still no progress. Right now, we have to move forward with the motion," said John Burris, one of two attorneys who filed a police misconduct case against the department almost a decade ago, triggering the court-ordered reforms.
The department's Internal Affairs division found that the photos posted outside the patrol lineup room had been defaced in a way that was "racist, insulting and inappropriate," according to the monitor's report.
More alarming to Burris, the photos weren't taken down until two days after a police employee apparently reported them to a lieutenant.
"It's not surprising that you would have haters in the department," he said. "But when that happens, other well-meaning people in the department are supposed to remove something like that immediately."
Quan did not respond to requests for comment.
The monitor reported conflicting information about the incident. An employee said that he informed a lieutenant about the photos. But the lieutenant denied that the complaint had been made and said that the employee had instead alleged that his building access card had been cancelled as retaliation for being a union steward.
Internal Affairs cited the lieutenant for failing to take a complaint about the alleged retaliation, but not for failing to report the photos. Internal Affairs had not determined who posted the photos, according to the monitor's report
Compliance could decrease
The court-ordered police reforms are part of the 2003 settlement of the Riders police misconduct case, in which a rogue group of officers were accused of beating up suspects and planting drugs on them.
Many of the reforms involve the way in which the department oversees its officers and documents incidents.
Police were supposed to have completed the 51 required tasks within five years, but the department still is out-of-compliance on nine tasks -- just one less than last quarter.
The department risks falling out of compliance with several more tasks based on the findings of a city-commissioned report into the department's handling of the first Occupy Oakland protest last October. The report, by former Baltimore police Commissioner Thomas Frazier, found that police made major mistakes dealing with protesters and that the mistakes were attributable to institutional deficiencies in the department. Warshaw, who will soon release his review of the report and his review of the department's handling of officer-involved shootings, warned that his findings might affect whether the department remains in compliance with several tasks.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6345.
Copyright 2012 - Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.