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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?

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