Who’s Policing the Police?

After agreeing to a Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) in response to a lawsuit for police misconduct 12 years ago, the city of Oakland has paid $30 million in court monitoring costs and is still not in full compliance.

Logo for the Coalition for Police Accountability

The infamous “Riders” case of 2002 was a class action lawsuit representing 120 Black complainants who accused police of misconduct that included planting drugs, kidnapping, and excessive force. The NSA, similar to a consent decree, requires the Oakland Police Department (OPD) to make 51 reforms and pay out over $10 million to complainants.

Twelve years later, of the 51 mandated reforms, OPD is in compliance with all but three: Compliant Procedures for Internal Affairs Department, Vehicle Stops, Field Investigations, and Detentions, and Consistency of Discipline Policy. While 48 out of 51 might sound like success; the NSA stated that OPD should be in compliance within five to seven years. Oakland has been under this NSA longer than any other city in the same situation. The reforms that remain unsatisfied address issues of oversight, police investigations, and police discipline. In other words, OPD can’t comply with the parts that require the police to police the police.

Oakland passed a Community Policing ordinance in 1996 that established neighborhood crime prevention councils, the citizens police review board, and a citizen police advisory board, all in an effort to put the community in control of police oversight. Yet, Oakland citizens have paid $74 million settling police misconduct lawsuits since signing the NSA.

“It’s shocking and it’s unacceptable.” said Rashidah Grinage, member of the coalition championing a ballot measure that would create citizen oversight of the police. “This is our money! This is money that could be used for community needs. We have a homeless problem that we need to address.”

Groups of concerned individuals and organizations, like Grinage, myself included, have formed the Coalition for Police Accountability (CPA). The CPA is trying to give community policing some teeth by creating an Oakland Police Commission. Oakland does have a Citizen’s Police Review Board (CPRB), which makes recommendations for police discipline to the City Administrator in misconduct cases. The problems with the CPRB are that it is under funded and the City Administrator does not have to follow its recommendations.

The proposed Oakland Police Commission, similar to the police commissions in Los Angeles and San Francisco, would give final discipline authority to the commission. For an Oakland Police Commission to become a reality, the City Charter would have to be amended. Amending the charter requires the voice of Oakland voters.

Council member Noel Gallo was the first to sponsor the charter amendment. “He astonished us by immediately agreeing to carry this,” Grinage said, recalling the conversation she and other CPA members had with Gallo in 2013. Council members Dan Kalb and Rebecca Kaplan have agreed to co-sponsor the ballot initiative.

Yet, CPA is not relying on the political winds to sail them to victory. The Coalition has filed an intent to place a measure on the ballot. CPA will start collecting signatures from voters to ensure that the measure makes it on the ballot with or without the vote of the City Council. The City Council can vote to put the amendment on the ballot in November 2016; CPA plans to collect over 40,000 signatures to make sure that Oakland voters are empowered to hold the police department accountable.

“We know that the city council members will be under considerable pressure from the Oakland Police Association (OPA), that’s why we are trying to broaden and deepen the Coalition to make sure that the community needs and interests are as forcefully expressed as those of OPA,” Grinage explained. She succinctly described this as, “Meeting pressure with pressure.”

On Thursday, February 11th, the NSA Federal Monitor team will attend a Community Forum hosted by CPA. This forum will have no keynotes or panelists. Audience members are encouraged to share their experiences interacting with OPD.

“After 12 years has anything changed? If so, has it changed for the better?” Let your voice be heard at First AME Church (530 – 37th St) at 7 pm in Oakland. For more information about the event and the CPA,
check out the website (http://www.coalitionforpoliceaccountability.org/calendar).

For more information about the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, visit the City of Oakland’s website (http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/OPD/DOWD004998)

Author Profile

I am an Oakland native who grew up in the early 1970's. My parents moved the family to Texas in the 1980's to get my brother and me away from the violence of the neighborhood. I returned in the early 1990's for good. I became a classroom teacher and found my niche working with African American boys. I later began working in community based organizations. For over 25 years, I have worked in the Bay Area.
My interest in media grew out of my attempts to keep up with my students and their new forms of communication. I am ready to take my experience to the next level through training, peer exchange and doing.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this excellent reprise of the ongoing fall out from the Rider Case, the reminder that police accountabiity has not been laid to rest, and that Oakland residents are ready to act in ways that City has been unable.

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