OAKLAND -- When Oakland agreed to reform the city's police department and accept federal monitoring following the Riders police brutality scandal, it joined a list of cities long enough to start a sports league.
But after a decade of delay and resistance, Oakland stands alone as the first city to fail in its reform effort and the first to agree to go from federal monitoring of its police department to federal control.
If, as expected, this week, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson signs off on an agreement between the city and two civil rights attorneys who represented victims in the Riders lawsuit, Oakland police will get a new supreme commander -- someone who must consult with Mayor Jean Quan and Chief Howard Jordan but who is accountable only to Henderson.
"It's unfortunate that it's come to this, but I think this is the necessary result," said Sam Walker, a criminologist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who has followed the saga. "There's a real serious problem there. If you have a new, independent voice, maybe this will get it done."
The federal compliance director will have power to spend city money, alter police tactics, and, if the department continues to lag on reforms, fire Jordan and demote his deputies.
Whoever gets the job will carry the hopes of a city that previously lost control of its school district and has little confidence in elected officials to effectively govern key institutions.
Community leaders want the director to change the department's culture so that police can win the trust of residents.
But many department veterans have a different hope. They're counting on the director to become an ally for officers who think the reform effort has resulted in a department that spends more time and energy trying to police itself than California's most violent city.
There are more than twice as many Internal Affairs investigators as there are homicide investigators in Oakland -- a city that has so far lodged 116 murders this year.
The Riders took their name from a drug suspect who noted the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of Oakland's police force. During the day, cops were friendly, but at night, according to court testimony, he said, "The Riders come out."
In 2000, the four Riders were accused by a fellow officer of beating and framing drug suspects in West Oakland and then filing false reports to hide their transgressions.
The officers lost their jobs, but juries twice let three of them walk free. The alleged ringleader, Francisco Vazquez, fled to Mexico to escape prosecution.
Before the prosecution fizzled in 2003, the city agreed to pay $10.9 million to 119 victims and initiate 51 reform tasks to improve accountability and prevent future scandals in a department dogged by allegations of racial profiling and brutality.
Many reforms required police to better document their activities including stopping suspects and using force.
But the effort stalled under four chiefs who either didn't prioritize the reforms or lacked the diplomacy skills to get the rank-and-file behind them, said Lawrence Green, a former lieutenant.
One deputy chief left key reform documents in his desk drawer untouched for two years, Green said. Another deputy chief, Pete Dunbar, had to take a demotion to show Henderson that the department was finally getting serious.
"There are things I could have done better to hold people accountable," said Dunbar, who now runs Colorado's police standards and training program. "To be honest, I thought they were doing their level best and balancing the settlement agreement with the crime-fighting stuff."
The more frustrated Henderson got with the city's lack of progress, the more frustrated some officers got with him.
Three years ago, a photo of Henderson, who is African-American, was tacked up at police headquarters and defaced in a way Internal Affairs found "racist, insulting, and inappropriate." This year officers told participants of a citizens' police academy that he was once part of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army.
Crime vs. compliance
Police officers refused to comment for this story, citing a department gag order.
Several recently retired officers said the reforms were unpopular because they forced the already undermanned department to spend more time on paperwork than policing.
They also said officers were being subjected to more Internal Affairs investigations -- an issue at the center of the reform debate.
Federal monitors accuse department investigators of performing halfhearted reviews that prejudge the innocence of officers, especially those investigated for shooting a suspect. But officers say some investigations resulted in arbitrarily harsh punishments by brass eager to show Henderson that they are taking the reforms seriously.
"If anything, cops are holding back because they're afraid of getting in trouble," Green said.
As of last week, weapon-related arrests were down 46 percent compared with the same period four years ago, according to police statistics. Drug-related arrests were down 69 percent. Meanwhile, major crimes are up 10 percent over the same four-year period.
"I used to say that what OPD did well was fight crime, but I don't know if that's true anymore," said former Deputy Chief Dave Koizicki, who now works at the Alameda County Sheriff's Department.
"They're gun-shy. One of my fears when I worked there was how far can we push this before police officers shut down and stop working. I think to a great degree that has happened."
Setbacks and prospects
Even as the city began checking off many reform tasks, its progress was undercut by costly departmentwide scandals that included illegal strip searches and falsified search warrants.
Since 2002, Oakland has paid out $46.83 million on police related claims and lawsuits -- four times more than in San Jose.
Last year, the city's own consultant criticized the department's handling of the first Occupy Oakland protest. Officers didn't adequately document using force on protesters, and management initially failed to fully investigate alleged abuses -- the same issues that the department has struggled with throughout the reform process.
The incident convinced Jim Chanin, one of two attorneys who represented plaintiffs in the Riders case, that the city alone couldn't reform its police department.
"Never in our wildest dreams did we think this day would come," Chanin said. "We never did this to have them fail. We did this to make the police department better."
Experts agreed that the federal director will have to spend some of cash-strapped Oakland's money to make the reforms stick. Walker said the department needed more officers, better technology and outside training.
Former Oakland police Chief Wayne Tucker said the department needed better equipment and in-house auditors to measure compliance. "If the city wants to get through this, they need to be prepared not only to spend the resources, but to make sure the resources are sustained," he said.
Jose Dorado, who leads an East Oakland neighborhood crime prevention council, said successful reforms should help reduce crime. "There are a lot of good cops, but the negative aspects of OPD culture has been a barrier to them winning the trust of the community," he said.
As Oakland breaks new ground in federal police oversight, the only certainty, police watchers say, is that the days of delay are over.
"This isn't like ignoring a parking ticket. This is something that has consequences, and we've found that out," said Don Link, who heads a North Oakland crime prevention council. "This was a judge who has been very angry with the city. And to an extent, he's justified."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.
June 2000: Keith Batt, an Oakland police officer trainee, begins stint with the Riders, who he said beat and framed drug suspects in West Oakland.
November 2000: The four Riders -- Jude Siapno, Clarence Mabanag, Matthew Hornung, Francisco Vazquez -- were charged with more than 60 offenses, including assault, kidnapping and filing false reports.
December 2000: A class-action lawsuit was filed by alleged victims of the Riders.
February 2003: With criminal case ongoing, Oakland settles civil case. City agrees to pay $10.9 million to 119 plaintiffs and implement 51 reforms with progress tracked by a federal monitoring team.
September 2003: After 56 days of deliberations, the jury acquitted three of the Riders on eight charges and deadlocked on the remaining 27 counts against Mabanag, Siapno and Hornung. Alleged ringleader Vasquez had fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution.
February 2005: Wayne Tucker, a 38-year veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, replaces former Chief Richard Word and pledges to expedite reforms.
February 2005: Judge Thelton Henderson threatened to hold Oakland officials in contempt after learning that the city had made almost no progress in implementing reforms.
May 2005: Prosecutors again failed to convict the three officers. This time a jury acquitted Hornung of two charges and Mabanag of another but failed to reach a verdict on the remaining 13 charges.
January 2007: Federal monitors found that Oakland had completed less than one-quarter of reform tasks, four years after agreeing to reforms. Later that year, Judge Henderson extends federal monitoring over Oakland police through 2010, citing lack of progress.
Jan. 2009: Tucker resigns facing a no-confidence vote from the City Council. He is later replaced by Long Beach police Chief Anthony Batts.
January 2009: Eleven officers faced firing after police audit found officers had falsified search warrants.
November 2009: Monitoring is extended through 2012. City opts for new monitoring team.
September 2010: Judge Henderson first threatens receivership after the new monitoring team found the city making little progress in implementing reforms.
October 2011: Chief Batts resigns and is replaced by Assistant Chief Howard Jordan.
October 2011: Botched police response to first Occupy Oakland protest is detailed in scathing independent report that questioned internal investigations of officers involved.
January 2012: Henderson orders Jordan to consult with the federal monitor before making major decisions.
October 2012: The monitor, Robert Warshaw, releases reports faulting Internal Affairs investigations into officer-involved shootings and blames failure to comply with reforms on department management.
Oct. 2012: Plaintiffs in Riders case petition judge for a receiver to be placed over the Oakland Police Department, citing continued failure to implement reforms.
Dec. 2012: City reaches deal ceding extensive authority of the department to a court-appointed compliance director.
Source: Published reports