The Oakland Police Department is the most dysfunctional police agency in California, and it may be the most dysfunctional governmental agency of any kind in the state. For years, OPD has been unable to solve the vast majority of crimes committed in the city as it racked up a deplorable record for police misconduct. But recently, matters have gotten even worse with revelations that OPD appears to have misspent up to $20 million in public funds at a time when some police employees were engaging in racist acts.
Not surprisingly, the lead independent court monitor, Robert Warshaw, a former police chief from Rochester, New York, also concluded that the department again had made no substantive progress toward achieving the reforms it agreed to implement nearly a decade ago. As such, Judge Henderson may put the department in federal receivership later this year — a move that would be unprecedented nationwide.
As if the racist acts were not enough, City Auditor Courtney Ruby also released a scathing report last week that showed OPD had wasted up to $1.87 million on technology in recent years that either doesn’t work or doesn’t work well. Moreover, the department can’t recoup much of its losses because it bought crappy equipment from fly-by-night companies that have since gone out of business.
But that’s not all. News organizations also revealed last week that the department’s new $18 million radio system is faulty and plagued with glitches. It has dead zones throughout the city in which officers can’t talk to one and other. And news of the malfunctioning radios made national headlines because the system went dead during President Barack Obama’s visit. Apparently, the department had failed to fully check out the new radio system and properly vet it before spending $18 million on it.
For years, the conventional wisdom in Oakland has been that city leaders should do whatever they can to avoid a federal takeover of OPD. Mayor Quan, in particular, appears to be concerned that a federal takeover would reflect poorly on her — even though the department was badly dysfunctional long before she took office in January 2011. Moreover, her predecessors, Jerry Brown and Ron Dellums, had no more success in reforming the department than she has had.
We’re starting to wonder, though, whether federal receivership would be worse than what we have now. The dysfunction within OPD is so pervasive, so ingrained, that it might take the shock and embarrassment of a federal takeover to finally turn the department around.