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Why Oakland Can't Fire Bad Cops

Interviews and records raise questions about biased investigations into police misconduct and the competence of attorneys representing the city.



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Rains later filed an official misconduct complaint with the State Bar of California against Rocio Fierro of the Oakland City Attorney's Office over the incident. However, no discipline resulted from the complaint.

In an interview, Parker said that her office is working closely with the city administrator and the police department to cooperate with Warshaw's probe of OPD's disciplinary process. Parker said the Jimenez case occurred while her predecessor John Russo was still in office. With regard to the Roche case, Parker disagreed with criticisms about her decision to change lawyers just before the arbitration hearing. "The timing of the assignment of that case wasn't a factor," Parker said, adding that the loss of nineteen members of City Attorney's Office during the past decade due to budget cuts has diminished her office's institutional knowledge and hindered its ability to handle cases.

Some observers of OPD say the OPOA's collective bargaining agreement, which gives the police union the power to choose arbitrators for each case, is also a major roadblock to disciplining officers. "That's not going away: Collective bargaining agreements are pretty standard now for police contracts," Burris said, noting that civil rights attorneys in other cities have commiserated with him about law enforcement's ability to select labor arbitrators and the resulting difficulty in upholding discipline and terminations.

"At the end of the day, it is about the arbitrators themselves, who appear reluctant to take a job away from a police officer and appear to have a pro-police bias," Burris said. "The question is whether the city presents sufficient evidence to overcome that bias."

Professor Walker of the University of Nebraska-Omaha contends that arbitration is a flawed system for dealing with problem officers. "Arbitrators like to split the baby both ways, and giving both parties something means that the cops get their job back," Walker said. "It is an inherently flawed way to deal with police terminations."

In addition to undermining community trust in police departments, the required rehiring of problem officers with documented histories of misconduct and improper use of force also is damaging to the internal culture of a police department, Walker said. Reinstating problem officers, he said, "bolsters the morale of the worst officers and undermines the morale of the good officers because they're known to be bad officers by others in the department."

In January, the Express published the results of an internal survey of OPD officers that corroborated Walker's assertion. According to the survey, some officers said OPD "is divided between a group of people trying to move the police department forward into a progressive and modern police force and those holding on to old times, old ways, and a good old boys club."

Correction: The original version of this story misstated when the exculpatory evidence had been withheld from Officer Franks' attorneys. It was when the case was still in its disciplinary stage and not yet had reached arbitration. Also, the story misstated the month in which the City of Oakland hired an attorney in the Roche arbitration case. It was February, not March.

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