Oakland city auditor critical of citizen-led police commission

Mayor Libby Schaaf, and Oakland Police commissioners Regina Jackson and Henry Gage fired police chief Anne Kirkpatrick. Feb. 20, 2020

Oakland's city auditor released a report this week critical of the Oakland Police Commission, a group of unpaid volunteer citizens voted into power to provide more oversight to a department rocked years ago by a police abuse sex scandal. 

In a 142-page performance review made public Wednesday, Courtney Ruby found that the commission had not fully implemented 13 key requirements and 23 additional requirements out of a total of 105.

In general, Ruby wrote: "More work is required for the Commission to be more effective. Oakland’s Police Commission was created to be one of the most powerful police oversight bodies in the country, however, it must be effectively organized and properly supported to use its power to create lasting systemic change for the community and the Police Department." 

Some of her criticism centered around the fact that the commission hasn't completed all of its required training, has not established processes for evaluating the performance of the police chief and has not consistently complied with the Brown Act. 

The audit also said the commission has failed to understand its roles and responsibilities as a public oversight body.

Ruby cited examples that included instances when the commission inappropriately told staff what to do, made rude comments and acted on matters that she said were outside its authority. 

In its boldest move since its inception in 2016, the commission, along with the mayor, fired Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick in February without cause.

Kirkpatrick has since alleged many of the same grievances in a whistleblower claim against the city. 

In a lengthy response, Commission Chair Regina Jackson and John Alden, director of the commission's investigative arm, said the auditor's criticisms failed to "account for the full span" of the commission's work and authority. 

"The auditor makes numerous misleading statements," the joint statement said. 

The audit also did find some praise for the commission, noting two policy changes the agency was responsible for.

The commission issued a groundbreaking policy mandating that Oakland police cannot immediately inquire about someone's probation or parole status during an interaction unless there is some threat to officer or public safety. The commission is also working on a comprehensive use-of-force policy, the auditor noted. 

The backdrop of this report comes as the Oakland City Council is weighing whether to put a measure on the November ballot to give the commission more power. The measure would give the commission its own civilian inspector general and attorney and if passed, they would no longer be supervised not by the city administrator. 

Mayor Libby Schaaf and the Oakland Police Officers Association both oppose the proposed measure.