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Oakland Police Monitor Says City Making Slight Improvement In Reforms

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An Oakland Police patrol car. (CBS)

An Oakland Police patrol car. (CBS)

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OAKLAND (CBS SF) — An independent monitor says the Oakland Police Department is making a “slight improvement” in meeting reforms that were mandated in the settlement of a police brutality lawsuit a decade ago.

In his 13th quarterly report filed with U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who approved the settlement in 2003, monitor Robert Warshaw said the department has made “a slight increase” in its compliance efforts during the last three months of 2012.

However, Warshaw said the city of Oakland and its Police Department have “stifled and sidetracked” the court’s reform efforts “for far too long” and he’s still dismayed by what he described as the department’s “stagnation in its progress toward effective, just and constitutional policing.”

The lawsuit settlement required Oakland police to implement 51 reforms in a variety of areas, including improved investigation of citizen complaints, better training of officers and increased field supervision.

The slow progress in complying with the mandated reforms prompted civil rights attorneys John Burris and James Chanin, who represent the plaintiffs in the case, to seek a federal takeover of the Oakland Police Department last year and have a federal receiver appointed.

But because of an agreement reached in December, Oakland has instead hired an independent, court-appointed compliance director to be in charge of completing all the reforms.

That director, Thomas Frazier, who was appointed by Henderson earlier this year, is expected to file his proposed plan to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement in Henderson’s court on Wednesday.

Frazier has the power to fire Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan and order city leaders to spend money on improvements in police practices.

Warshaw indicated that he approves of Frazier having such power, noting that Frazier “can hold to great account those in the city and (Police) Department who have the responsibility to institute these reforms.”

Warshaw said he hopes that Frazier will implement all the court-mandated reforms, “invigorate the police leadership and increase the accountability of the Police Department to its constituency, the citizens of Oakland.”

The reforms are the result of the Jan. 22, 2003, settlement of a lawsuit filed by 119 Oakland citizens who alleged that four officers known as the “Riders” beat them, made false arrests and planted evidence on them in 2000.

Three of the officers faced two lengthy trials on multiple criminal charges stemming from the allegations against them but they ultimately weren’t convicted of any crimes. The fourth officer fled to Mexico and was never prosecuted.

Burris said Tuesday that “there are points of encouragement” in Warshaw’s report about the Police Department’s progress but he said he believes the city only acted in response to the effort to have a federal receiver appointed.

Burris said he thinks that effort “caused the city and the Police Department to appreciate that this (complying with the settlement) isn’t going to go away and that if they want to end this they have to step up to the plate.”

Burris said he’s waiting to see how the city responds to Frazier’s plan.

He said, “I hope they have a positive response and everybody is on the same page.”

Jordan, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana said in a joint statement, “We are pleased to be making progress toward full compliance, though we know more work lies ahead.”

They said, “We are in close collaboration with the compliance director (Frazier) to accelerate these efforts, and together we will achieve our mutual goals of reform and strengthened relationships between our police and our community.”

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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