Pubdate: Thu, 20 Feb 2003
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2003 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Herbert A. Sample, Bee San Francisco Bureau
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


The Pact Will Pay $7 Million To Victims Of Abusive Cops And Set Up Major 
Department Reforms.

OAKLAND -- In what legal observers said was an extraordinary pact, this 
city and 119 alleged victims of abusive behavior by Oakland police officers 
settled a civil-rights lawsuit Wednesday that institutes a lengthy list of 
systemic reforms in how officers are supervised and disciplined. The 
victims, mostly African American males, will share about $7 million in 
monetary damages stemming from the actions of four now-fired Oakland 
officers who were dubbed the "Riders." Three of those former officers are 
in the midst of a criminal trial, on which the lawsuit settlement will have 
no direct impact; the fourth has apparently fled the country.

But the accord, unveiled at a City Hall press conference, goes much further 
in attempting to change a Police Department that is feared or scorned by 
many in the large African American community here and that has suffered 
through numerous embarrassing incidents of late.

The agreement calls on the force's internal affairs unit to be increased 
and its complaint system improved. Field supervision of officers will be 
upgraded and supervisors and managers will be held accountable for their 
officers' conduct.

In addition, officers' use of force or of pepper spray will be more 
thoroughly reviewed, documentation of vehicle stops will be improved, a 
24-hour complaint line will be established and undercover "stings" will be 
implemented to identify officers suspected of abusive behavior.

The settlement, which has been approved by a federal judge, also calls for 
the hiring of an independent monitor who will oversee the department's 
compliance over five years and report to the court.

"Today, Oakland is turning a page on a bleak chapter in our city's 
history," said Oakland City Attorney John Russo.

Chief Richard Word, a veteran Oakland officer, said the reforms wouldn't 
hamstring his 750-member force. "I know that we're a very good department. 
But these reforms will help us to become a more sophisticated one -- one in 
which we work well with residents and business owners."

The lead plaintiffs' lawyer, John Burris, also hailed the agreement but 
cautioned that the department will be closely watched over the accord's 
five-year life. "No document is better -- it cannot be better -- than the 
people who are prepared to enforce it," Burris said.

The city, as part of the settlement, explicitly denied any admission of 
guilt for the actions of the Riders officers.

But Franklin Zimring, a professor at Boalt Hall law school, said the accord 
was a tacit admission of troubles in the department. "That degree of 
structural detail and that range of contemplated structural change is 
testament to acknowledgment of a real problem," Zimring said.

The department has long been accused of mistreatment. In recent years, the 
city has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to victims of alleged abuse.

"The rate of complaints against Oakland police, whether real or imagined, 
is very, very high because there is a history of antagonism in that 
community," said Kenneth Walsh, a criminal justice professor at San 
Francisco State University.

Other problems have cropped up as well. A top narcotics detective was fired 
last year after the department accused him of misconduct. Two other 
detectives pleaded no contest two weeks ago to soliciting an act of 
prostitution. An officer was suspended last month after he was videotaped 
kicking a subdued suspect.

Meanwhile the department has been accused of not aggressively fighting 
crime. Homicide investigators bemoan the lack of assistance from witnesses, 
which the detectives attribute in part to a disdain for police.

In their criminal trial, the three Riders officers face a total of 26 
counts stemming from incidents in mid-2000, including kidnapping, assault 
and filing false reports. The civil lawsuit involves those actions as well 
as others dating back to 1996.

The city and its insurers will pay out a total of $10.9 million, including 
about $3.9 million in attorney fees. City officials expect to spend an 
additional $2 million a year to implement the reforms.

The head of the Oakland Police Officers Association did not return calls 
seeking comment.

Jo Su, an organizer with the community group PUEBLO, which has been 
critical of police policies, said the accord is a good first step but 
failed to include improvements in the city's existing civilian police 
review board.

"One lesson we've learned from this whole Riders incident is the police 
really can't be trusted to police themselves," Su said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom