For the better part of two decades, Oakland residents have often objected to the city's process for taking complaints about police officers. Under the city's system, residents who want to make a complaint against a particular officer must make that complaint to a uniformed cop working for OPD's Internal Affairs Division. For some, the setup was intimidating, and it also bred cynicism because internal affairs routinely dismissed most of the complaints. After a 2005 survey revealed a high level of community distrust of OPD's complaint procedure, People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO), a police watchdog group, began a campaign to allow residents to make complaints about police officers to civilians working for the independent Citizen's Police Review Board. The proposal also would allow the police department to reassign eight highly paid cops from complaint-receiving to patrol or other policing duties.
After years of struggling with then-Mayor Jerry Brown and the Oakland police union (the Oakland Police Officer's Association or OPOA), which both strongly opposed the proposal, PUEBLO convinced the city council in 2011 to approve $1.4 million to "consolidate the intake of complaints at the Citizens' Police Review Board [CPRB]" and fund the hiring of civilian employees to fill that role. The council also later repeatedly endorsed the reform measure, both as a way to move eight police officers off of desk duty, as well as to strengthen independent police oversight. The measure also called for serious allegations of police misconduct to still be investigated by internal affairs.
However, City Administrator Deanna Santana delayed implementation of the reform measure and opened up a protracted round of talks with the OPOA, which remained staunchly opposed to allowing civilians receive complaints about sworn officers. Frustrated by the delay, the city council voted unanimously in April to set an October 15 deadline for the transfer of complaints from internal affairs to the CPRB (see "Deanna Santana Blocks Reform of Internal Affairs," 5/8/13).
Then last week, court-appointed Compliance Director Thomas Frazier unilaterally overruled the council's decision. He ordered that while intake of misconduct allegations could be done by civilians, those civilians must work for the police department's Internal Affairs Division — and not for the CPRB. On September 11, Frazier emailed PUEBLO's executive director, Rashidah Grinage, regarding his decision: "I met with the Court this week," Frazier wrote, apparently referring to US District Judge Thelton Henderson, who oversees OPD's court-mandated reforms. "We decided that civilianization of IA [Internal Affairs] Intake should continue, and that the Intake Unit should remain in the Police Department."
Frazier's decision caught both PUEBLO and the council by surprise, because just days earlier, he had said he did not object to having civilians working for CPRB receive police misconduct complaints. Frazier did not respond to a request for comment for this story, so the exact reasons for his about-face are not clear. But his decision is already being viewed in the city as a political victory for Santana and the Oakland police union. It also raises questions about the federal court's ability to disregard a decision made by the city's elected representatives.
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