Oaklanders Fight for the Right to Watch their Watchmen

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2015

Oakland residents are fighting for more power to oversee the actions of the Oakland Police Department (OPD).

On April 2, 2019, attorneys for the Coalition for Police Accountability (CPA) filed a motion to intervene in the ongoing federal oversight of OPD, established in 2003 by a Negotiated Settlement Agreement in a major police misconduct case.

This settlement required OPD to make 51 improvements, and granted some authorities to the plaintiffs and lawyers in the case to oversee OPD’s fulfillment of the required tasks.

Many in the CPA resent that after 16 years and over $30 million in public funds, the NSA still isn’t complete and the public’s role in the process is minimal.

If approved, the motion would allow CPA to attend and participate in meetings related to police policy and practice that are currently closed off to them. CPA members feel that intervening in the case would make it easier for Oakland residents to influence and change police policy.

“We would file our own reports and be able to do our own investigating because we’d have access to the same information as the other parties in the case,” said CPA member Rashidah Grinage. CPA wants the authority to hold police accountable that was granted in the settlement of the 2003 police misconduct case to plaintiffs and their lawyers James B. Chanin and John Burris, to extend to them.

CPA member Pamela Drake said they need that access and can be of service because they have deep and broad connections to people in Oakland. They represent about 25 local organizations.

“You need people on the ground who have a broad base and spend their time doing outreach in order to make a difference,” said Drake. “We have the outreach and access to political pressure of a kind that Burris and Chanin don’t because we represent so many people and we have people who are living it.”

Chanin said public oversight is important and he advised CPA in its push to pass Measure LL, a bill which resulted in the creation of Oakland’s Police Commission, a portion of the city government that provides civilian oversight to OPD policy and practice. But Chanin disagrees with CPA’s motion.

Chanin and Burris currently have authority to participate in the oversight of required improvements as representatives of the community’s interest. The 2003 NSA required a set of improvements, which the court calls “tasks.” They were to be fulfilled in five years. Sixteen years later, of the original 51 tasks, four tasks remain incomplete.

“It might have been a good idea for CPA in intervene in the case in 2003,” said Chanin. “But we have so few tasks left and there’s so much time that’s gone by that I don’t think their participation at this point would shorten the NSA.”

Members of CPA insist that, though only four tasks remain, those tasks involve some of the most important issues for both the public and OPD.

The most recent report by independent monitor Judge Robert S. Warsaw shows task numbers 26 and 30 still incomplete. These tasks relate to use of force. Task number 34 is also still incomplete. It deals with racial discrimination against Black people.

While Chanin and Burris both have suggested that the CPA focus their attention on collaborating with the Police Commission instead of intervening in the case, CPA members already regularly attend their meetings but see the commission as limited in what they can control and do.

By intervening in the case, they hope to obtain more resources and control for the commission which would allow for more public oversight of OPD. The City of Oakland and OPD originally planned for the publicly funded NSA process to last only five years.

Many in the CPA resent that after 16 years and over $30 million in public funds, the NSA still isn’t complete and the public’s role in the process is minimal. “We’re paying a huge amount of money for this process and we’re not getting the results that we need,” said Grinage.

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