OAKLAND, Calif. - A city councilman is now calling for an end to the 17-year court-ordered federal oversight of the Oakland Police Department on the heels of the termination of the city’s top cop.
Councilman Noel Gallo sent a letter Friday to U.S. District Judge William Orrick complaining that the city has spent $28 million since oversight began in 2003. He claimed that the tasks OPD is required to complete to get out from under federal monitoring change too often, and requested a meeting with the judge to find a way to end federal oversight this year.
It’s unclear if Orrick will respond to the request. It is not typical for federal judges to meet with individual city council members outside of court.
Gallo also cited the fact that the current monitoring agreement is the longest federal oversight deal of its kind. He asked that if Orrick isn’t willing to end the oversight agreement, then he wants the judge to consider firing the current monitor Robert Warshaw, in order to “bring fresh eyes” to the process.
Warshaw was the target of Gallo’s criticism last week after Oakland police chief Anne Kirkpatrick was fired by the Oakland Police Commission, with Mayor Libby Schaaf’s approval. Kirkpatrick also lashed out at Orrick last week, calling for a Department of Justice investigation into the oversight process and Warshaw personally.
KTVU previously reported that Warshaw earns about $1 million per year, according to records provided by the city.
Despite the price tag, the civil rights attorneys who filed the lawsuit that triggered federal monitoring – Jim Chanin and John Burris -- believe many positives have resulted because of the agreement.
"The monitor is paid a substantial amount. And I wish that would end," Chanin conceded last year. "But I think when people think of how much he's paid they should look at the number of (police abuse payout) cases that before he got here. I'd rather spend it on a monitor than on a family with someone who is dead or wounded."
But the councilman thinks the city is ready to police its own.
In his letter to the judge, Gallo insists that “it’s time for the City to manage its own future,” despite OPD still being eight mandatory tasks away from completing the 52 requirements of the monitoring agreement. Last year, OPD was three tasks away but slid backwards and fell out of compliance with five additional points in less than half a year. Tasks include items such as preventing racial profiling, tracking problem officers, reporting misconduct and turning on body cameras, to name a few.
Gallo also blamed the “changing” list of tasks for a “lack of consistency” in the police department that “contributed to one of the reasons that Oakland has had ten Police Chiefs since 2003.”
On the heels of Kikpatrick’s firing, Gallo defended the ex-chief, saying that the reactions he’s been hearing from constituents regarding her ouster is that “it’s no longer City Hall but Silly Hall.” Kirkpatrick has also complained to KTVU that the list of required tasks under the federal monitoring agreement felt like a moving target.
What started as optimism turned to doubt when Chanin learned OPD had fallen out of compliance with several mandatory tasks last year.
"We are moving backwards at a pretty alarming speed," Chanin said over the summer, recognizing that his outlook has changed.
The attorney had thought that the oversight might be nearing its end a few times in the past -- only to find that not to be the case.
Three years ago, Oakland police were near the end of the oversight, he said, but the Celeste Guap police sex scandal erupted, setting the department back in 2016. And before that, there was Scott Olsen, a Marine whose skull was fractured by Oakland police officers in 2011 during an Occupy protest; the city paid him $4.5 million three years later and an investigation into the use of force was launched.
Still, despite the length of time and the frustrations involved, Chanin said he and Burris are committed to seeing what they set out to do nearly two decades ago to its completion.
"We can't leave without this job being incomplete," Chanin said. "I'm 72 years old. I'd like to get out of this."
There is hard evidence that the department has moved forward in making reforms in the last two decades. But there is also evidence that the agency is moving in the wrong direction in terms of completing individual mandates.
The police department's most recent setbacks stem from last year's internal audit that found officers are under-reporting uses of force, like when they pull out a gun or take a suspect down to the ground during high-risk situations, and the March 2018 fatal officer-involved shooting of Joshua Pawlik, a homeless man who was sleeping with a gun in his hand.
The audit found OPD officers failed to report use of force against a suspect in more than a third of the incidents that were studied in 2018 and every one of the unreported incidents involved a racial minority, either black or Latino.
Simone Aponte is an investigative producer for KTVU. Email Simone at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @SimoneAponte
Cristina Rendon contributed to this report. You can reach Cristina at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @CristinaKTVU