At a press conference held on the top floor of the Oakland Police Department's headquarters last Thursday, members of the media were given copies of the long-anticipated Frazier Report, an independent study commissioned by the city to investigate the organizational roots of OPD's misconduct during the Occupy Oakland protests of October 25, 2011. Clipped to the front of the report was a city press release claiming that most of the recommended reforms by the consulting firm the Frazier Group LLC have already been completed or are underway. A table summarizing the report's 68 recommendations with check marks noting specific areas of progress was also attached. An oversize pie chart claiming that 74 percent of the report's recommendations have been "completed" or are "underway" stood on an easel near the podium. The message city leaders intended to convey was clear.
However, there's no way to independently verify whether specific recommendations in the report have in fact been completed or are in progress. "That was a city chart," said the report's lead author, Thomas Frazier, in response to an email about the city's press packet. "I had not seen it before [Thursday]. We have no way of knowing how accurate it is."
And, moreover, the Frazier Report gives a detailed and somewhat devastating list of criticisms focusing on OPD's system for investigating officer misconduct and crime. Not only does the department not learn from past mistakes, the reports states, but Oakland police officers even acknowledge that the lack of consequences for violating policy or engaging in criminal misconduct has fostered a culture of impunity. Thus, the report raises serious questions whether the recommended reforms can so easily be completed.
The Frazier Group's findings identify systematic deficiencies that largely reflect OPD's failure since 2004 to implement the court-ordered reforms demanded by US District Judge Thelton Henderson. The report gives a detailed accounting of organizational dysfunction, inadequate planning and investigations, and a lack of accountability in relation to last fall's Occupy Oakland protests. These shortcomings also manifest themselves in the department's quotidian work of investigating and solving crimes, evidenced by a low clearance rate (only 32 of the 110 murders that took place in Oakland in 2011 — or 29 percent — were solved and prosecuted) and deep mistrust of police among large segments of the community.
OPD's shortcomings are indicative, the report states, that the department does not learn from past mistakes in spite of expensive lawsuits and settlements. The use of less-than-lethal munitions on demonstrators last October, tactics that Frazier characterized as "dangerous and outmoded," is in direct violation of a crowd-control policy implemented in 2004 after the city paid $2 million to protesters wounded by projectiles fired on a crowd of antiwar demonstrators at the Port of Oakland.
"Everything they learned in 2003 has been unlearned," said attorney Jim Chanin, who initiated the class-action lawsuit that underpins federal monitoring of OPD. "The problems repeat themselves because there's no accountability, no reason to do any differently, because no one gets disciplined for doing the same actions over and over."
Buried deep within the Frazier Report is a direct acknowledgment by Oakland officers that the lack of consequences for violating policy, or even engaging in criminal misconduct, has fostered a culture of impunity, despite nine years of court-mandated reforms intended to eradicate such behavior. Unidentified OPD officers told Frazier Group personnel that this situation was due to the lack of corrective action by those in charge: "Members of the department observe tacit approval of misconduct by supervisors and commanders, so the behavior continues."
The lack of consequences for officer misconduct manifests itself in OPD's lax disciplinary record outside of recent Occupy protests — particularly with officer-involved shootings. Lack of accountability and unwillingness to pursue improper conduct by officers are identified repeatedly in the Frazier Group's examination of OPD deployment of Tango Teams on October 25. These officers are typically assigned to gang enforcement or SWAT units, and have been involved in a disproportionate number of shooting incidents and uses of force in non-protest incidents. They have carried on similarly during crowd-control operations.
Police video shows that Tango officers first threw tear gas into the crowd on 14th Street and Broadway, which OPD and Frazier claim were in response to objects being hurled at them from the crowd. Regardless of the cause, the Frazier Report found that Tango officers violated OPD policy by not inventorying or keeping records of their usage of less-than-lethal and chemical munitions.
OPD has also not submitted each individual use of force by Tango officers for scrutiny by a Use of Force Review Board, despite Police Chief Howard Jordan's assertions last fall that the incident would be investigated as a "Level 1 Use of Force" (a potentially lethal incident). As of April, a review board had not scrutinized any of the incidents involving less-than-lethal ammunition. The Frazier Report also criticized OPD for an "unacceptable number" of inadequate after-action use-of-force reports from October 25.
The incidents pending review also include the injuries sustained by Marine veteran Scott Olsen, who was severely injured after being struck in the head by a drag-stabilized beanbag round. In regards to Olsen's injury, OPD officers testified to Frazier personnel that they did not notice him fall to the ground injured, despite Officer Robert Roche's decision to lob a gas grenade at Olsen and a group of people coming to his aid.
The Frazier Report directly challenges the testimony of Tango officers in regards to the Olsen incident: "After review of hours of video footage involving the injured party (who appears to be approximately 15-25 feet in front of the police skirmish line when he was struck and fell to the ground), the fact that no law enforcement officer, supervisor, or commander observed the person falling down or prostrate in the street during the confrontation was unsettling and not believable."