Federal oversight of Oakland police department may end soon

All parties believe police have made improvements since 'Riders' scandal

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Two decades of federal oversight of Oakland police may end if the department can show it can continue to implement reforms effectively.

In a hearing before U.S. District Judge William Orrick, police, city officials, and attorneys involved in a lawsuit that led to the reforms agreed the police department had made progress in its reform efforts, according to the East Bay Times.

“I will be an extraordinarily happy person if a year and a bit from now, we’ll be able to close out this part of Oakland’s history,” Orrick said, according to the Times.

The case Orrick referred to involved the so-called Riders scandal that exploded in 2000. A rookie police officer told his supervisors that the Riders — four veteran officers — engaged in misconduct that included writing reports, planting drugs on suspects, and beating suspects.

One of the officers named in the case left the county. The other three faced dozens of criminal charges, including obstruction of justice, but none were convicted of a crime.

Following the criminal trial, a group in 2002 filed a civil lawsuit, Delphine Allen et al. v. City of Oakland, alleging misconduct by the four cops. Within a year, the parties entered into a consent agreement that ordered 52 police department reforms, including a policy for complaint resolutions, improved standards in the command structure, and procedures involving use of force investigations. 

As part of the settlement, police had to agree to federal oversight of its department. 

Attorney John Burris speaks during a 2019 press conference about a lawsuit related to Oakland police officers killing Joshua Pawlik, a homeless man shot by four Oakland police officers on March 11, 2018. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Orrick said he plans to order a one-year period of review in which the department can show its reform can succeed long-term, according to the Times. Orrick said the department still needs to address how it disciplines officers since in some department investigations, Blacks are disciplined more than their White police office counterparts, the Times noted.

The attorneys who filed the civil lawsuit support the judge.

“The Oakland Police Department has moved from being one of the worst police departments in the San Francisco Bay Area to being one of the best police departments in comparable cities in the country,” attorneys Jim Chanin and John Burris wrote, according to KTVU-TV.

The lawsuit’s settlement was expected to expire in about five years, but has lasted this long because Oakland police have had a hard time implementing the reforms.

For example, the independent federal mediator monitoring Oakland police criticized then-chief Anne Kirkpatrick, for her lax discipline of officers, according to the Mercury News. The city’s police commission, citing a loss of trust, fired Kilpatrick in 2020. She has since sued the city.

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