OAKLAND -- A court battle over whether to place the Oakland Police Department under federal control looks increasingly likely after an independent monitor on Monday found that the department is no closer to fully implementing reforms spelled out in a nearly decade-old federal court order than it was six months ago.
The monitor, Robert Warshaw, praised new police Chief Howard Jordan for his effort to bring the department into compliance with a 2003 agreement that settled the Riders police misconduct case. But he also noted the slow pace of progress and criticized the department's handling of last year's Occupy Oakland protests.
City leaders said the report showed that Oakland finally had a team in place capable of achieving compliance, while a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Riders case said it cast further doubt on the department's ability to reform itself.
Warshaw's report covered the last three months of 2011, which included many Occupy-related protests. He faulted the department's planning and training for the protests and found that one officer had violated the department's use of force guidelines when he fired a beanbag at a protester videotaping a line of riot police.
Although Warshaw reserved judgment on other Occupy-related incidents until investigations were completed, he warned that the department's at times "overwhelmingly military-type response" could harm its ability to comply with the settlement agreement.
"I cannot overstate our concern that, although progress on ... compliance has been slow, even those advancements may have been put in doubt in the face of these events," he wrote.
Oakland police have been struggling for nine years to fully implement the agreed upon reforms that settled the Riders case, in which a rogue group of officers were accused of beating up suspects and planting drugs on them.
The department's window to satisfy federal U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appeared to be closing in January when Warshaw's last quarterly report also found no significant progress. Henderson ordered Jordan to consult with Warshaw before making major decisions and set a schedule to consider placing the department in federal receivership.
Jim Chanin, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the Riders case, said he was planning to move forward with a receivership motion that would be heard by Henderson in December.
"The only way the motion wasn't going to happen was if we saw some dramatic improvement in the monitor's report, and this isn't it," Chanin said. A final decision on whether to seek receivership for the police department will be made within four to six weeks, he added.
Chanin was especially troubled by the police department's acknowledgment that it lacked the capacity to complete internal affairs investigations, including three major Occupy-related cases that have been outsourced to a private consultant. "They have to be able to do a major investigation involving one of their own," he said.
The 2003 Riders settlement required police to institute 51 reforms. The department is still out of compliance with 10 tasks, including those that involve use-of-force reporting, supervisory control over police squads, internal affairs procedures and the system designed to identify problem officers.
Oakland released a statement that it is seeking new technology to replace the system and that it is modifying training related to a number of tactics to help it come into compliance. "OPD has turned the corner, and our new, more collaborative relationship with the monitor and plaintiffs' attorneys will soon bear results in compliance findings," Jordan said in the city-issued statement.
Warshaw said the Occupy protests provided no excuse for the department not to make progress on complying with the settlement agreement. "Instead it is precisely in such times that the reforms articulated in the (settlement agreement) are at their point of greatest significance, as they govern the behavior of the department and its officers," he wrote.
The city is expecting a more thorough report on police handling of the Occupy protests from outside consultant The Frazier Group. That report, commissioned by the city, is expected to be released shortly.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435