Resisting Reform Comment on
proposed recommendations

Resisting Reform: Recommendations from the Clinic’s Report on OPD Reform

The Stanford Law School International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic would like to thank everyone who provided their opinions, recommendations, and ideas at our event at Laney College on Thursday, December 12.  We appreciate the time and assistance of so many community members, including our panelists, organizers, and participants, and we hope everyone found the event as useful and informative as we did.

We recognize that the reform of the Oakland Police Department is an ongoing project with many stakeholders, the most important of which is the community that OPD is committed to protect and serve.  Since not everyone was able to attend the event, we would like to invite anyone with an interest in OPD’s reform process to join the conversation here.

We have divided our preliminary recommendations into individual blog posts.  We invite your comments and feedback on each of these posts.  We hope to draw on this feedback as we finalize our recommendations before releasing our report, Resisting Reform.

To provide us with your thoughts, please click on an item and it will take you to the post where you can read about our proposed recommendation, and share your thoughts in the input in the comments beneath.  Comments are anonymous by default, but please feel free – if you wish and believe it to be relevant – to share with us your institutional affiliation or role in the community.

  • OPD:
  1. Develop proactive, credible, and publicly-accessible processes to demonstrate officers’ awareness of policies designed to protect the rights of Oakland citizens (ex: Oakland’s Crowd Control Policy, OPD’s business card policy, etc.)
  2. Publish Crowd Control Compliance Reports following any police encounters with social protest movements
  3. Increase the opportunities for OPD officers to engage with the Oakland Community
  4. Recruit more OPD officers from Oakland
  5. “Civilianize” the oversight of the OPD
  • Alameda District Attorney and US Attorney’s Office:
  1. Prosecute more OPD officers who have been found to commit crimes or egregiously violate policies
  • Oakland Municipal Authorities:
  1. Change incentives for Oakland City Attorney to aggressively pursue decisions to terminate OPD officers as a result of serious violations of departmental policy
  2. Improve communication with the police department
  3. Improve communication with the public
  4. Create political space for police reform
  • California’s Mutual Aid System:
  1. Reform to allow for greater department discretion and officer accountability
  • Citizen Activists:
  1. Find creative and non-violent means of expressing opinions and ideas, and stay involved in the conversations between the OPD and the city


If you think we’ve missed any major recommendations, or you have a general comment, please click here.

Thank you for your support; together, we hope to spark dialogue between all the parties involved that will lead to a more transparent, accountable, and communicative OPD.

Resisting Reform: General Comments

Thank you for providing input on our recommendations!  If you have any comments not tied to a specific recommendation, concerns, or questions, please feel free to use the space below.

Community Recommendation 1: Find Creative and Non-violent Ways to Express Community Values

Recommendation: Find creative and non-violent ways to express community values and ideas, and stay involved

The final recommendation is directed at the citizenry of Oakland as a whole.  The history of social movements—and the history of Oakland itself—suggests that no institution left to its own devices will ever promote lasting change without the support of a popular movement.  This—in a nutshell—is why it is so important to safeguard the right of citizens to speak out, organize, and mobilize on behalf of principles they believe in.  In other words, this is the ultimate reason why in the words of Rachel Lederman (panelist on the Dec. 12 event at Laney College) it is important to protect the “right to dissent.”

Community activists we spoke to talked about the need to find creative and means of expressing their ideas, and reaching new audiences.

Oakland—and the civil rights movement as a whole—has a powerful legacy of non-violence.  That legacy is as strong today as it was historically.  The power of that strategy comes not only from its inherent righteousness, the discipline requires, and its morality, but also from its effectiveness.  Not all protesters believe in the wisdom of non-violence as a strategy.  But if protestors do adopt non-violent protest strategies, the advice from reformers within the police department is that they will be far the more effective in helping the OPD to gradually shift its operational culture and tactics.

In the words of one community activist who helped organize the protests in response to the Oscar Grant shooting: “quite simply—stay ready.”  Reform of the OPD will never be possible without the active involvement and insistence by Oaklanders that the time for reform is now.

What can the community – and particularly Oakland’s activist community – do to help promote human rights-consistent reforms in the OPD from the grassroots?

California Mutual Aid Reform 1: Allow for Greater Department Discretion and Officer Accountability

Recommendation: California’s Mutual Aid system needs to be reformed to allow for greater department discretion and officer accountability 

Oakland’s reliance on the Mutual Aid System contributed to the breakdown in police professionalism at some of the Occupy Oakland protests.  Mutual aid officers came to Oakland poorly briefed on the city’s Crowd Control Policy, and primed for an “emergency” rather than a policing action to contain a largely non-violent protest.

Some key reforms to consider might be to allow police departments to request mutual aid assistance even in non-emergency situations such as the Occupy Protests.  In such situations, mutual aid contingents could arrive on less of an emergency footing, and have a more substantial opportunity to familiarize themselves with the host community’s operating policies and procedures.

Host police departments might also develop more systematic management strategies when requesting mutual aid. Examples might include assigning discrete tasks to incoming units, and ensuring that they receive adequate training on how to communicate with the other officers taking part in an operation.  Host communities should face sanctions for failing to develop such management strategies, possibly compromising their ability to draw on the mutual aid system in non-emergency situations.

Finally, there need to be clearer lines of accountability between the police departments that contribute police forces to a mutual aid engagement and the individuals whom they are policing.  This may involve a special institutional mechanism designed specifically to investigate and attempt to resolve or refer complaints about officer misconduct in cross-jurisdictional contact between citizens and police departments.

What other measures might be implemented to better align California’s Mutual Aid system with the norms of constitutional policing?

City Authorities Reform 4: Create Political Space for Police Reform

Recommendation: Create political space for police reform

Many interviewees we spoke to mentioned how police reform efforts – especially those involving accountability measures or other initiatives opposed by the Oakland Police Officers’ Association (the Police union) – were politically toxic for many Oakland elected officials.  Repeatedly we were told that the need to be perceived as “tough on crime” could override any genuine effort to take on vested interests and push through badly needed reforms in the OPD.

What can be done to build the political space for elected officials to speak out (and act out) in favor of police reform?

City Authorities Reform 3: Improve Communication with the Public

Recommendation: Improve communication with the public

City officials need to be more transparent about the laws and rules that they would consider to be relevant to a given protest activity. Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley believes that “Oakland . . . need[s] more people out there talking to people about why they make their decisions.” This sentiment was echoed by Deputy City Administrator Arturo Sanchez:

“I think that the moment [Oakland officials] knew that they were going to engage in this [Occupy protest action], we should have come out to the very first tent person and explained what our rules are what our requirements are . . . and attempted to have a much firmer hand in terms of making sure that they worked with us on that.”

The city should develop clear communication protocols for future protest actions on how it intends to manage protests, including whether camps will be permitted and policies on arrests and charging decisions.

Similarly, OPD offices spoke to us about how much they valued the opportunity to engage with protest organizers in advance of a protest action, and the importance of the protest organizers “policing themselves” (thereby allowing the OPD to assume a much less visible and offensive stance during the protests).

How can the city (either the city management or OPD) engage in this kind of constructive communication with protesters in a way that would be perceived as respectful, constructive and welcome from the perspective of those protesters?

City Authorities Reform 2: Improve Communication with the Police Department

Recommendation: Improve communication with the police department

Many of the individuals we spoke with felt that one significant factor in the chaos of October 25, 2011 and other Occupy Oakland-related incidents was a serious communication breakdown between the OPD and the City Administration.

Former Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts complained of having to ask, “Mother, may I?” before making any major decisions.  Mayor Quan tells a very different story; one where she may not even have been adequately informed of the plans to clear Frank Ogawa Plaza before the events on October 25, 2011 took place.  This kind of breakdown in communication, followed by a string of very public resignations and finger-pointing between high-ranking officials in the city government and Police Department, led to a serious erosion of the public’s confidence in the ability of the city and the OPD to manage another crisis competently.

One possibility for the city and police to consider in the future might be some sort of a uniform joint task force that would kick into action in disruptive or emergency situations, where high-level officials from the police and city administration would meet on a regular basis to coordinate their strategy, messaging, and outreach efforts.

What other ways are there to improve the communication between the city administration and OPD?

City Authorities Reform 1: Incentivize Oakland City Attorney to Terminate OPD Officers Who Violate Departmental Policy

Recommendation: Change incentives for Oakland City Attorney to aggressively pursue decisions to terminate OPD officers as a result of serious violations of departmental policy

The administrative procedures used to sanction Oakland Police Officers accused of official misconduct are deeply flawed.  Even where internal investigations confirm misconduct, the recommended sanctions are often reduced or dismissed entirely during appeals.

Some commentators have spoken to us about the importance of increasing the effectiveness of the Oakland City Attorney prosecution efforts in cases against officers accused of misconduct.

One potential avenue for exploration might be to ‘outsource’ the legal work associated with defending against the arbitration challenge.  Politicians in Oakland often face intense pressure to be “tough on crime” (and by extension supportive of OPD), so one might imagine a situation where the responsibility for pursuing such arbitration cases would be subcontracted to a private firm. Other municipalities in California have already set the precedent experimented with outsourcing part of all of their City Attorney’s legal work, and specialized law firms are already emerging in California with a reputation for handling such outsourced municipal work.

Is this a good idea?  Are there other ways to increase the city’s effectiveness purging its police force of the true “bad apples” who no longer deserve to be policing Oakland’s streets?

DA/US Attorney Reform 1: Prosecuting Officer Misconduct

Recommendation: The Alameda County District Attorney and US Attorney need to prosecute misbehaving OPD officers as needed in accordance with their mandates

The threat—even if rarely exercised—of potentially being prosecuted for willful illegal behavior is an important factor that should influence every officer’s decisions.  The Alameda County DA has—in fact—investigated Police Officers for criminal conduct (the Riders case and the BART police officer who shot Oscar Grant).  Nonetheless, many feel that the office could be doing more in this regard, and that making these sorts of prosecutions a higher priority would send a clear message to both the OPD and the Oakland public that impunity has no place in the Police Department.

The same sentiment is articulated even more forcefully for the US Attorney, who has so far been largely inactive when it comes to the prosecuting OPD officers for misconduct.

At the same time, the Alameda County DA has been praised by Public Defenders in the county for her office’s practice of independently conducting investigations into Police Officers’ personnel files, looking for criminal records or compromising internal affairs investigations.  Even though such investigations result in no repercussions for the officer other than to impugn his testimony as a witness, it nonetheless communicates a concern with the integrity of an officer’s character.

What – if anything – can be done to increase the threat of credible prosecution for serious officer misconduct in Oakland?

OPD Reform 5: “Civilianize” the Oversight of the OPD

Recommendation: “Civilianize” the Oversight of the Oakland Police Department

Many changes have been proposed to reform the Citizens’ Police Review Board over its more than thirty year history, but none is more crucial—or controversial—than the change to have the Office of Internal Affairs of the OPD be “civilianized”.  Under the new system, the group that conducts internal investigations of complaints against members of the OPD would be moved outside the Department’s own purview.  Several cities of comparable size and demographics—New Orleans, Chicago, and neighboring San Francisco—already have handed over similar powers to civilian authorities and it has created a higher level of community trust in complaint investigations.

As a former CPRB head said, the current system, where the Department is tasked with investigating its own officers, is perceived as “the fox guarding the henhouse,” and “[h]aving civilians investigate would send a strong message to the community that we are trying to make some changes, and it goes hand-in-hand with [other reforms].”

However, the Compliance Director, Thomas Frazier, recently dismantled just such a reform, because “[h]e felt it was very important for the integrity and quality of internal affairs investigations, which he is charged with improving, that the intake and investigations be housed in the same department.”

Most likely, the new system would have to be integrated into the next Memorandum of Understanding between City of Oakland and OPOA—the current MOU is in-force until June 30, 2015.

In what ways can the city move toward more civilian oversight of OPD activity?

OPD Reform 4: Recruit More OPD Officers from Oakland

Recommendation: Recruit more OPD officers from Oakland

It is illegal under California law for a police department to have residency requirements in its hiring practices. But it is not illegal for those police departments to proactively pursue applicants from their own city.  Given Oakland’s tainted historical legacy of targeted recruitment of non-Oakland residents to police in particular Oakland’s African American community, the Oakland Police Department should aggressively pursue applicants who come from or are familiar with local communities.  This might involve recruiting potential OPD members directly from Oakland schools and colleges, as well as other specific programs designed to attract local residents into the police force.

How might the city encourage more young men and women from Oakland to consider careers with the OPD in service of their community?