Originally published at The Oakbook
Part of the ongoing reporting on the Oakland Police Department.
The Monday following the funeral for the four police officers Lovelle Mixon killed in East Oakland, State Attorney General Jerry Brown appeared on Michael Savage's national AM radio program to decry how lawsuits and citizen watchdog groups have hamstrung police departments. Mr. Brown noted that in Oakland there are more cops investigating other cops than there are solving the city's homicides. When it's fully staffed, the Internal Affairs Department (IAD) counts nine officers and 10 sergeants in its ranks. By comparison, there's only one OPD officer trying to solve the hundreds of auto thefts in Oakland last year.
A proposal from Mayor Ron Dellums' Task Force on Police Issues seeks to remove 10 sworn officers from IAD and replace them with 10 new City employees under the Citizens' Police Review Board at an estimated cost of $1.2 million. The Oakland Police Department agrees that civilians should do many of the jobs now performed by sworn officers. But the acting police chief wants a civilianized IAD answering to OPD, arguing that the department already has a system for handling citizen complaints against OPD officers. On Tuesday, the Oakland City Council's Public Safety Committee will receive competing reports on how and when IAD should be civilianized. At stake is the handling of the roughly 1,500 citizen complaints filed against OPD officers each year.
There are now two ways for a citizen to lodge a complaint against a police officer. A complaint can be filed with OPD's IAD or with the Citizens' Police Review Board.
The Oakland Police Department's outsized IAD comes from the legal aftermath of the Riders incident. In 2003, the City and the OPD entered into a Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) with the plaintiffs in a civil suit alleging that police officers in West Oakland demonstrated a pattern of false arrests, illegal searches and excessive force. The NSA gave OPD up to seven years to comply with 51 tasks aimed at preventing police misconduct and breaches of integrity within the department. The very first item on the list was adding more staff to IAD.
While the most recent independent report evaluating OPD's compliance with the NSA found that the department was "vastly improved" in the way it handled complaints of police misconduct, it remained "not in compliance with most of the NSA tasks related to internal investigations." Still, there appears to be general agreement from citizen groups and police brass that IAD civilianize a big chunk of its operation within the next nine months. The disagreement stems from which agency will oversee the non-sworn investigators - OPD or the Citizens Police Review Board.
With Oakland facing a budget deficit of $82 million over the next two years, OPD and the Mayor's Task Force are using money to make their respective cases. The Task Force claims that the city will save $800,000 by hiring 10 civilian IAD investigators. OPD cites the higher clearance rates and the bigger caseloads of sworn IAD officers to argue that civilians won't save the City any money. In 2007, OPD's IAD received approximately 1,700 complaints compared to the Citizens Police Review Board's 80 complaints. The Mayor's Task Force, which includes members of the Citizens Police Review Board and People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO), contends that more people will report police misconduct if the investigation process is handled by civilians under civilian control.
There's no question that IAD is now creating problems that the crafters of the NSA didn't anticipate. Last year, the monitors overseeing OPD's compliance with the NSA found that supervisors are passing on complaints about their underlings to IAD rather than investigating the matters themselves. This from the May 2008 report by the independent monitoring team: "We have seen too many instances in which a supervisor immediately asks IAD to investigate an officer or civilian employee who has not been doing his/her work, has been late, or has been otherwise derelict in duty. In many of these instances, the appropriate response would be for the supervisor to document the problem, take corrective action, and continue to closely supervise the person."