OPD Complains About the National Standards for Police Stops

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Having narrowly averted federal receivership for failing to complete federally ordered reforms for a decade, the Oakland Police Department will be under the control of a to-be-named compliance director for at least one year. Whoever is selected for that position will face off against a segment of the department's rank-and-file officers who view the Negotiated Settlement Agreement as nothing more than a burden.

Last Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that vehicle and pedestrian stops by Oakland cops plummeted by 75 percent from 2008 to the present — from over 68,000 stops to a projected 15,733 for 2012. The article attributed the drop in stops to the department's loss of 200 officers since the end of 2008, and to the unwillingness of street cops to fill out paperwork required by the NSA.

Citing officers who spoke anonymously, the article claimed that stops are “distinctly complicated in Oakland,” because officers are now required to fill out separate reports on each person they stop, including their race and gender, as well as the justification for and outcome of the stop:

“Some veteran officers said stops were down in part due to the paperwork involved, with each report taking up to 10 minutes. They said cops were also afraid of making stops that might generate a complaint - and potential discipline from police leaders who are under pressure from the courts to show they can control officers' conduct.”

‘The policies become so restrictive that police work isn't possible,’ said one officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "You have to do everything you can just to keep your job safe, so why would you risk going out and being proactive?’”

The only problem is that such requirements for so-called “stop data” are best practices for 21st-century American policing, and have been adopted by several other police departments which have undergone their own reforms under consent decrees. “All the consent decrees are essentially the same,” said Samuel Walker, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “There is nothing unique, or uniquely difficult, about the Oakland NSA.”

A 2009 report on the Los Angeles Police Department's progress under its consent decree by Christopher Stone, Todd Foglesong, and Christine M. Cole of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government elucidated the positive impact of federal reforms on street policing. Even though street officers viewed increased stop data requirements as a burden to their work, LAPD's patrol division increased the quality of its stops, resulting in more cases that actually made their way to court.

“Despite the views of some officers that the consent decree inhibits them, there is no objective sign of so-called ‘de-policing’ since 2002; indeed, we found that both the quantity and quality of enforcement activity have risen substantially over that period. The greater quantity is evident in the doubling of both pedestrian stops and motor vehicle stops since 2002, and in the rise in arrests over that same period. The greater quality of stops is evident in the higher proportion resulting in an arrest, and the quality of
arrests is evident in the higher proportion in which the District Attorney files felony charges.”

By contrast, OPD's arrests and clearance rates for violent crime have plummeted in recent years. While Oakland may never be able to muster the resources of a city like Los Angeles to staff up its police department to the estimated 1,000 officers OPD says it needs to adequately patrol the city, similar-sized cities like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have reformed their police departments to meet modern law enforcement standards. As long as OPD street supervisors continue to resist implementing court-ordered reforms, Oakland's taxpayers will remain on the hook not only for expensive police salaries and legal settlements, but for the ever-increasing cost of ongoing federal oversight.

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