OAKLAND (KPIX) — A scathing new report reveals serious flaws in punishing Oakland police officers, as problem officers who were suspended or fired were basically rewarded with what amounted to a paid vacation.
The independent report — which called the arbitration process a “joke” and an “embarrassment” — says in the last four years, Oakland lost about 75 percent of its arbitration cases against suspended or fired police officers.
Those officers not only got their jobs back, they were given back pay.
The report says the officers didn’t win because they were right, but rather because the city attorney’s office did a horrible job and failed to spend time to fight those cases.
“This report was absolutely difficult to read. But it’s important,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf.
A federal judge overseeing the Oakland Police Department ordered the report after noticing a pattern of arbitration losses, like the case of officer Robert Roche.
Roche was fired after he tossed a tear-gas canister at protesters helping an injured protester during an Occupy Oakland protest.
It’s no secret to officers they’ll likely win in arbitration. The report says days before his hearing, Roche posted a Facebook picture drinking with other officers at a bar, saying “It’s about time, shooters ready, standby.”
Someone responded, “If their arbitration record is any indicator, they should start pressing your uniform now.”
“It’s a dysfunctional system, where the attorneys aren’t given the time to prepare the case,” said attorney Jim Chanin, who represented Scott Olsen, the Marine Corps veteran critically wounded and left with permanent brain damage when he was hit in the head with a shotgun-fired bean bag.
The report says the city attorney assigned cases to lawyers too close to the arbitration – in at least one instance, just the day before.
“If you’re not prepared, you’re gonna lose,” said Chanin.
Mayor Schaaf promised change. She wants to hire four more people to help the city attorney fight arbitration cases.
“When we don’t have good discipline and accountability systems, we do harm, and we have done harm to the community.”
City Attorney Barbara Parker refused to do an on-camera interview but released a statement saying she agreed with many of the recommendations in the report and that she is addressing those issues.