Oakland police seize cops' phones in online probe

KTVU has learned that the Oakland Police Department has seized as many as 100 city-owned phones belonging to officers who are part of its crime reduction teams.

Sources close to the department say it has to do with officers accused of making controversial comments on a now-deleted Instagram page that had the handle "crimereductionteam."

"It's very disturbing that anyone would post this because of the sort of sexist, racist and sexualized imagery," said Darwin BondGraham, news editor of Oaklandside.

BondGraham broke the story about the Instagram account and reported that it may have been run by an Oakland officer.

In one meme, birds representing officers react to a newly hired female police recruit. The birds respond by saying, "mine."

Another post seems to ridicule reporting use of force by fellow officers. A little girl represents an officer and shrugs after a sergeant asks, "Alright who witnessed the use of force?" 

"What they're basically saying is they're expressing support for insubordination of the subversion of a policy that's really core to policing today," BondGraham said.

In a statement Wednesday, Oakland police said, in part, "We will not tolerate any form of hate speech, any expression that supports hate speech, or any acts of subversion, whether in person or on online platforms. There are clear policies and guidelines that govern this behavior, and OPD will root out this conduct anywhere within the department."

It was a similar response after Oaklandside reported that officers "liked" pro-PresidentTrump and far-right comments made by a former Oakland officer who was present during the Capitol siege.

Speaking generally, John Alden, executive director of Oakland's Citizen Police Review Agency noted that only city-owned phones can be searched.

"And they absolutely should be, in any case where we're concerned about those communications, so we can see exactly what was being passed from one officer to another," Alden said.

Civil rights attorney Jim Chanin said officers still have First Amendment rights, but noted, "You cannot confuse your First Amendment rights with your right to be a police officer."                       

Chanin said officers should know that any negative comments could bring disrepute to a department still strugging to meet court-ordered reforms.

"Officers should know that by now, but the fact that some of them appear not to, is extremely disheartening," Chanin said.

Chanin said it's possible any online comments could have been made from personal phones, but that he would not support any seizure of those kinds of devices.