'Sense of hope' as Oakland police reform efforts nears end, top cop says

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said Thursday that he was cautiously optimistic that his department could be nearing an end to almost two decades of federal oversight.

"It is encouraging and for our officers, for our community, I think everybody should feel a sense of hope," Armstrong said.

The top cop, however, added, "It's good to see that we're being recognized for the work that's being done, but we have not crossed the finish line and there's still more work to be done."

Armstrong spoke at a news conference that was called to address a shooting by an officer the day before outside an East Oakland hotel. An officer opened fire on a suspect who was wanted for vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run in a deadly crash last year. 

The suspect was later identified as David Garibay-Vargas.

On Thursday, the two attorneys who sued Oakland police and crafted a $10.5 million settlement said the department has turned the corner.

"We’ve seen a lot of improvements that count," said civil rights attorney John Burris. 

Burris said the department has made great strides with Armstrong as chief. Shootings by officers have gone down, as have racially-based traffic stops.

"I think the message he has sent to the officers is that he wants this to work and that when problems come up…he sought to correct it immediately," Burris said.

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Attorney Jim Chanin said, "We really want the Oakland police to succeed. I think everyone knows that."

Chanin said officers have made mistakes but that the department has shown it has learned from those mistakes.

"They've gotten a lot of criticism, 95 percent to 100 percent is well-deserved, but it's time to give them some praise as well," Chanin said.

This week, independent monitor Robert Warshaw also said he has "cautious optimism" about an end to court oversight.

But there's still a loose end. An outside investigation is still underway as to whether officers made controversial comments on a now-deleted Instagram account.

Schaaf said the department can move forward with guidance by the Oakland Police Commission.

"I know this community will never stop holding this city and this department accountable for decent behavior," Schaaf said.

There will be a hearing in the case in federal court on Wednesday. If the judge agrees that reform efforts have been met, the department would at some point begin a one-year "sustainability period" similar to probation.