Review Board for Complaints Against Police Still On Hold

By Ken A. Epstein

The city’s administration has not implemented a City Council decision to begin sending complaints against Oakland police offers to a Civilian Complaint Review Board, which was supposed to staffed and operating by Jan. 1.

Rashidah Grinage

Rashidah Grinage

Nor has the delay been discussed at a City Council meeting.

According to supporters of the review board, the new agency is a crucial step in making the Oakland Police Department more accountable to local residents.

When it is finally in operation, the review board will handle all intakes of new complaints. As part of the change, 10 to 15 highly trained officers who are part of the police department’s Internal Affairs Division could be reassigned to patrol duty, meaning that money could be saved on hiring sheriffs and Highway Patrol officers to beef up police on the streets.

Internal Affairs has been criticized by the federal monitor for finding in favor of the officers in many complaints.  In addition the results of a survey indicated that many residents are unwilling to turn in complaints to the police about the police.

Rashidah Grinage, executive director of PUEBLO, which has been working on increasing police accountability for many years, wants to know why the City Council’s decision has not been carried out.

“Why are all these discussion happening behind closed doors rather than in open session where somebody would have to be accountable?” asked Grinage.

In an interview with the Post Wednesday, Santana said the city cannot move ahead with the review board without the approval of the new federal compliance officer, who has not yet been appointed by Judge Thelton Henderson.

“We have to seek his or her approval,” she said, reiterating a Jan. 16 memo to city officials in which she said a December federal court order contains “provisions which we believe require the city to work with the court assigned compliance director before action is taken to transfer these functions.”

Grinage disputed Santana’s reasons.

“That’s factually not correct,” she said. “This has been run through monitors and all the other parties involved (in the federal agreement) since day one. We would not have been stupid enough to go through a seven-year process without having done our due diligence. And the City Council would not have approved it if all the parties had not agreed.”

“They don’t care who investigates the complaints as long as they were done to the standards of the (federal agreement).”

Santana also said the city’s Human Resources Department, which was responsible for writing job descriptions and hiring new staff, is short-staffed and overworked. “We have a real staff constraint,” she said.

Further, the city has had to talk with the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA).  The change “was subject to a ‘meet and confer’ process” with the OPOA, Santana said in the Jan. 16 memo.

Disagreeing with the city administrator, Grinage said the city had previously tried to argue that it needed agreement of the police officers’ association before starting the review board but had lost in court.

“Our position is that it was not subject to met and confer. We established that when we went to superior court,” referring to a 1999 decision in which Superior Judge Henry Needham “ruled civilian oversight belongs to ‘managerial prerogative’ rather than labor and therefore needs to be discussed publically, and not subject to bargaining.”

“It was a settled matter. It was supposed to start in January. Then the lights went out,” said Grinage.

“Where has the City Council been on this? Why has there been no public discussion.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 1, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)