OAKLAND -- City officials say their settlement with attorneys seeking police department reforms will prevent an embarrassing federal takeover, but a close review of the agreement suggests otherwise.
If the deal is approved, as expected, by a federal judge next week, a "compliance director" will be hired at city expense to institute reforms mandated by a previous agreement that settled the infamous Riders police brutality scandal.
That director will have broad powers, similar to a federal receiver, to force the police department to make reforms. Those powers include firing the police chief, demoting command staff, changing policies and practices and spending up to $250,000 at a time for items the director deems necessary for reforms.
"In our view, there is not much difference at all," said John Burris, one of two attorneys who forced the reforms. "We call it something else, but the responsibilities are the same."
Police Chief Howard Jordan said Wednesday that the agreement gives the city the ability to "help shape the new police department" but details show that ability is scarce.
The only chance the city has to shape the department is to object to decisions made by the compliance director. And even then, the city "will bear the burden of persuading the Court" that the compliance director is wrong.
"I think it is fair to say that the mayor has lost control of the police department," said Frank Zimring, a criminal justice
Sean Maher, spokesman for Mayor Jean Quan, maintained Thursday that the city will be better off with the deal than with a federal receivership and reiterated Jordan's opinion that it will allow for collaboration.
"This is an order that involves a lot of collaboration," Maher said. "It involves a lot of close work between the city and the compliance director."
Zimring, however, said that close work will depend on the relationship between Jordan and the person hired to work as a compliance director.
"The question is, what is the relationship between this new actor and the current police chief?" Zimring said. "If they get along well and form an alliance, that may strengthen the capacity of the two of them."
If they don't, the agreement allows the director to fire the chief and institute a host of changes to a wide range of police department functions from personnel decisions to the procurement of equipment.
The agreement calls for the city and the attorneys to propose candidates to federal Judge Thelton Henderson.
Burris said he and attorney Jim Chanin want a candidate who has experience working as a chief or in the top command staff of a police department who also has worked for the U.S. Department of Justice helping to institute reforms in other police departments.
Burris said finding common ground with the city in selecting a compliance director should not be a problem.
The cost of implementing the new agreement remained a mystery Thursday.
Maher said the mayor has proposed setting aside $5 million for the next five years to cover all costs associated with meeting the reforms. Over the last two years, the city has spent almost $2 million for the federal monitor who reviewed police compliance issues and reported to Henderson.
Outgoing City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente said he believes the city will spend millions it shouldn't have to because of the agreement. De La Fuente said he voted against the deal and believes the city gave up more power with the agreement than it would have with a federal receiver.
"Instead of fighting receivership, we basically caved and negotiated everything away just to avoid it being called a receivership," he said. "The cost of this is going to be immense."