Oakland PD reformer waste of resources, officials say
While some city leaders believe Oakland is only a year away from meeting its goals, others are concerned the city is stuck in a hopeless, expensive, bureaucratic grind that takes valuable resources away from crime fighting
By Will Kane
San Francisco Chronicle
OAKLAND, Calif. — Despite paying millions of dollars to court-appointed consultants over the past five years, Oakland has been unable to meet the terms of a court settlement stemming from a decade-old police abuse scandal.
By next year, Oakland will have paid two consultants $4.6 million to help the Police Department meet the remaining two dozen reforms outlined in the court agreement.
But while some city leaders believe Oakland is only a year away from meeting its goals, others are concerned the city is stuck in a hopeless, expensive, bureaucratic grind that takes valuable resources away from crime fighting.
"The public funds that we have, that we should be using for public safety, are going to consultants that I truly understand now have no interest in leaving Oakland," said City Councilman Noel Gallo, who heads the city's public safety committee. "All I do is keep paying their salary with no return on my investment."
At issue is a 2003 federal court settlement stemming from a police abuse case in which four rogue police officers who called themselves the Riders were accused of assaulting people, falsifying police reports and conspiring to obstruct justice.
For years, the city failed to comply with the settlement terms. In 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson appointed a second federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, to see to it that the city got the job done. The city was forced to pay Warshaw to monitor its Police Department. Warshaw did not respond to requests for comment.
Court documents and interviews with current and former city officials show a city frustrated with Warshaw, whose firm has secured $4.4 million in city contracts to oversee the department.
Warshaw has court authority to fire and discipline police commanders and to evaluate whether the Police Department is meeting the settlement terms.
As part of his work, he visits Oakland roughly twice a month and his firm writes a report four times a year that grades the city's progress. He collects a hefty paycheck but never speaks to City Council members or answers questions from the news media.
A second court-appointed consultant, Thomas Frazier, who was paid $270,000 by the city for a year of work, was fired by Henderson in March.
Some say Warshaw is a tough reformer who insists that Oakland be held accountable and that the city's complaints about him are an effort to distract from its failure to comply with the reforms.
"If they put even a small bit of the energy that they do on complaining on complying, we would be there," said Jim Chanin, an Oakland civil rights attorney involved with reform.
Among the outstanding reforms Oakland has yet to fully comply with are rules about supervision and installing a computer system that can flag problem officers.
In 2012, the two attorneys who filed the 2000 lawsuit, Chanin and John Burris, said the city was making no progress in the reforms and urged Henderson to take control of the Police Department.
In January, Warshaw said that after months of progress, the department had fallen behind in reform and that there should be "more positive movement." The 87-page report, Warshaw's 16th, said police commanders and city leaders were inconsistent and that the "decline in compliance was a disappointment."
In particular, Warshaw wrote, the police commanders were too informal when they reviewed police shootings.
Interim Police Chief Sean Whent said at the time said the department was "committed to making swift progress."
Standards Seen As Vague
But court records show that Whent and other city leaders have complained since 2012 that Warshaw has held them to murky standards.
In a November 2012 deposition, Whent, who was then the deputy chief, wrote that Warshaw's firm held the department out of compliance because a board of police commanders chose the wrong reason to discipline an officer for a shooting.
"Although the Board found the shooting that it was investigating at the time was unjustified and held the officer out of compliance, the Monitor believed it should have been out of compliance based on a different reason," Whent wrote. "Regardless of reason, the end result was a sustained finding for excessive force."
Whent also wrote that Warshaw was insisting the department analyze data related to traffic stops, while the court settlement requires only that the department collect the data.
"Judge Henderson has indicated that analysis is not part of compliance," Whent wrote in the deposition. Warshaw "disagrees, presumably on the basis that the requirement for the database implies analysis of the data."
The city is in talks to hire an outside company to analyze stop data.
Deanna Santana, who was then the city administrator, went further in her deposition, writing that Warshaw often issued vague instructions and did not communicate with city staff.
"The absence of the (Warshaw's firm) to provide the requested level of enhanced technical assistance ... and more frequent visits has powerfully impacted" compliance, Santana wrote.
Three months before her November deposition, Santana said Warshaw had made inappropriate sexual advances toward her. Warshaw was eventually cleared by Henderson.
In an interview, Santana, who has since left the city, declined comment.
Whent, in an interview, said that the situation has improved since 2012. While he understands the frustration of some city leaders, Whent said he expects the department to be in full compliance by the end of 2014.
"I can see the finish line," he said. "I think we have made the changes to get there, and now I need to wait and see if it plays out."
Officials Scared, Critic Says
Paula Hawthorn, an Oakland resident who has been critical of Warshaw and is a board member of the Make Oakland Better Now community group, says the city's too scared to question Warshaw's authority.
"A lot of the people on the City Council and certainly the mayor don't want to offend Warshaw. They don't want to say bad things," Hawthorn said.
Chanin, meanwhile, says he has never seen a suggestion that Warshaw is milking his contract with the city or unfairly changing the rules.
"I don't think that the goalposts are moving," Chanin said. "I don't see that the standards have changed."
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