Reassessing Police Treatment of Occupiers

Allison Kilkenny

Police form a line between protestors and Frank H. Ogawa Plaza during the eviction of the Occupy Oakland camp on November 14, 2011, in Oakland, California

The Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB) was scheduled to meet the night of Feb. 9 to discuss the treatment of Occupy Oakland by police, but at the last minute indefinitely postponed” the meeting.

Instead, protesters facilitated their own forum to review police actions that took place on Jan. 28 and Oct. 25, when Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen suffered a severe head injury after being hit by a police tear gas canister.

Kevin Gosztola, Firedoglake:

Occupy Oakland did not think it would be right to let the CPRB get away with indefinitely postponing the event. They invited community, press and city officials to attend and listen. They planned speakers for the event and organized a section at the end of the forum for the public to share their thoughts.

Additionally, Occupy Oakland notes in a post promoting this event, Federal monitors overseeing OPD’s Consent Decree have requested a video tape of the forum to use in their own investigations.”

Keeping the Oakland Police Department under the constant watchful eye of the federal government has cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Using the California Public Records Act, KTVU combed through nine years of records to find out exactly how much money has been spent.

The federal government originally started monitoring OPD after the Riders scandal when four officers were accused of beating and framing mostly African-American suspects. Neither of the two jury trials resulted in convictions, but a civil lawsuit settlement cost the city more than $10 million.

And taxpayers are still on the hook for more.

KTVU requested all of the expenses filed by Federal monitors who were appointed by a federal judge to oversee the Oakland Police Department since 2003. What was supposed to be a five-year, $4 million program has dragged out nine years costing more than $6 million.

The current monitor, Robert Warshaw, and his staff have billed the city for almost $1.5 million since 2010. That includes $70 dollar cab rides from SFO to Oakland, $300 parking bills, and some first-class airfares. One round-trip flight from Richmond, Virginia to San Francisco cost nearly $2,000.

The federal monitoring team announced in late January that it planned to issue a report soon” on the Oakland police and its handling of the local Occupy actions.

This has been prompted by deep concerns over what we observed regarding these events, and by the reinforcement of those concerns through our preliminary analyses,” the team said in a Jan. 17 quarterly report. We note that we will conduct a review of Occupy Oakland issues, which are related to the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, as part of our next regular quarterly report that will cover the period from Oct. 1, through Dec. 312011.

Federal monitors were recently given additional oversight duties by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, the same judge overseeing a 2003 negotiated settlement agreement with Oakland in the Rider case scandal.

Henderson is the same judge who recently dealt another blow to the OPD when he ruled an officer who covered his nameplate at an OO protest in November, and the lieutenant who failed to report him, committed serious violations of court-approved conduct for the city’s police force.

Video of the incident:

Despite plummeting popular support for Occupy Oakland, the City Council decided on Feb. 7 to reject a call for a police crackdown on future demonstrations. Reportedly, the proposal failed to garner enough support due to Oakland police brass and port officials quietly opposing the idea.

Oakland police officials are reportedly worried that more violent confrontations with Occupy protesters could push the department into federal receivership. And port officials were concerned that the crackdown measure would prompt more violent confrontations at the port.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

While rare, federal monitors have previously been used by courts to observe how a police department implements changes stemming from a lawsuit. Monitors have been called in to observe police departments in Los Angeles, New Orleans and other cities in recent years, according to the Justice Department. But no local police agency has ever been placed in federal receivership, the Justice Department said.

Many major cities, including San Francisco and New York, have an independent oversight body to monitor for police misconduct and recommend penalties for wayward officers. But in some instances, the oversight organizations are limited in scope and power. Oakland has had a police review board since 1980.

In New York, three Democratic state senators recently called for an independent inspector to oversee the New York Police Department after what they called several abuses, including the crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protesters, but also a widespread surveillance program targeting Muslims.

The measure from Sens. Kevin Parker, Eric Adams and Bill Perkins of New York City who are frequent critics of police dealings with minorities has little chance of passage, however. There is no Assembly counterpart, although on Friday Assemblyman Karim Camara said he will introduce one soon. The Senate bill lacks essential support by the Republican majority, which is close to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It also needs a request from city officials.

Mayor Bloomberg opposes the bill, saying the city won’t turn over the police department to an outside group.

The AP revealed that the NYPD, aided by the CIA, developed a spying program to monitor every aspect of Muslim life and built databases detailing every minute of innocent Muslims’ days.

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Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.
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