A group of Oakland citizens is planning to try to intervene in the federal consent decree overseeing the Oakland Police Department. The San Francisco Chronicle reported late last month that the group, which includes members of Make Oakland Better Now, a good government organization, contends that the federal court monitoring of OPD has deemphasized crime fighting in a city with severe crime problems. The group also is worried that things will worsen if OPD ends up in federal receivership. But while the citizen’s group has every right to publicly criticize the consent-decree process and the court monitoring, its planned attempt to intervene in the federal case is misguided.
To understand why requires a bit of background. The federal consent decree and the court monitoring of OPD stemmed from the infamous Riders case in which a group of rogue cops abused numerous West Oakland residents in the late 1990s and the early part of the last decade. The reforms in the consent decree, also known as the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, grew out of a lawsuit filed on behalf of The Riders’ victims against the City of Oakland.
Oakland’s then mayor, Jerry Brown, the entire city council, then-City Attorney John Russo, and the Oakland Police Department all agreed to settle the lawsuit and implement the reforms outlined in the consent decree. They also agreed to the independent monitoring process established by the court to ensure that OPD actually enacts the reforms.
In addition to OPD and the court monitoring team, the consent-decree process includes the city itself, which is a party to the settlement and monitors the court process through its City Attorney’s Office; attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin, who represent The Riders’ victims; and federal Judge Thelton Henderson, who oversees the entire thing.
So, by trying to intervene in the consent decree, the unelected citizen’s group is attempting to do something that Oakland’s own elected leaders have not yet agreed to do: add another party to the federal court oversight process. That’s unfair to the rest of Oakland’s citizenry, especially those who believe OPD should fully implement the consent-decree reforms — and that those reforms, which are designed to limit police abuses, should remain paramount.
Obviously, the citizen’s group is unhappy with the consent-decree process. But like every other Oakland resident, the group already has a forum for expressing its criticisms — it’s called the city council. And if the council and the city’s other elected leaders, who represent all Oaklanders, agree with the group’s concerns, then the city has the power to request changes to the consent-decree process in court. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.