Who gives the orders? Oakland police, City Hall and Occupy

Who gives the orders? Oakland police, City Hall and Occupy

The recent declaration of "war" by the NYPD police union shows how the police are a political institution who do not simply follow orders from elected leaders. A similar revolt occurred among Oakland police during Occupy Oakland.

The view that most in the US hold of the police, even many critics of police misconduct, is that they are ultimately accountable to the leadership of the city in which they operate. The mayor is the democratically elected chief executive and the police are committed to following their orders. Since city leaders typically defend and excuse police misconduct, the responsibility seems to rest with City Hall. However, police actions against Occupy Oakland, along with longstanding issues of police accountability during a decade-long negotiated settlement, show how little control Oakland City Hall has over its own police force.

While long simmering disagreements between the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and Oakland City Hall have often been papered over by pubic relations efforts, they have come to the surface during several contentious moments over the years. These rarely play out as an open rebellion, even though the tenor of words has approached that at times. Nonetheless, the hostility of police officers and command staff toward their elected leaders is yet another limitation on “democracy” in the United States, one that is all too often underappreciated.

This essay will look at some of the tensions that have erupted between OPD and City Hall and how OPD has inserted itself as a player in Oakland city politics, particularly during the Occupy Oakland period. It will provide an analysis of how OPD exists as an unaccountable bureaucracy[1] that maintains an enormous amount of power independent from elected politicians. Similar to other bureaucracies, it is self-serving, nepotistic, and hostile to change. Also like other bureaucracies, it is supposed to be apolitical and yet they constantly insert themselves into politics to protect the jobs of their staff and promote the careers of their leaders. Unlike most bureaucracies, it maintains a monopoly on violence. The inability of city leaders to control this bureaucracy is therefore a uniquely dangerous limitation to a “democratic” city government because, like all police, OPD will be hostile to any mass rebellion, regardless of the political composition of the city leadership.

All cops are bureaucrats

In spite of the promises of politicians and movies like Minority Report, the police are hardly able to stop crime from occurring in advance. There is no way they can possibly be on every street-corner and in every home as homicides and burglaries are carried out. The fact that police patrols do not have a substantial impact on crime rates has been well known and documented for quite some time.[2] Even to the minimal extent that the police might be able to lower actual crime rates—and not just manipulate the rate at which crime is reported—they have very little interest in doing so since that would effectively put them out of a job. As an early study criticizing the FBI’s national crime statistics noted:

Like all bureaucracies, criminal justice agencies can hardly be expected to implement policies that would diminish their importance; therefore, money appropriated to fight crime is allocated less to prevent crime than to detect and apprehend criminals after the crime has been committed.[3]

A key insight here is that police departments are like all bureaucracies. They are required to justify their existence to politicians and taxpayers year after year with visible, perceived results. Having done so, they are able to further the careers of their own staff and management as well as the political leaders whose fates rest upon them. An analysis of this dynamic was applied to the Sanitation Department of New York City in terms that are far too rarely applied to the police:

To say [the Sanitation Department’s] goal is to pick up the garbage—even to pick it up frequently, pick it all up, and do it cheaply—does not tell us much. These are not goals of that department but merely loose constraints under which those who use the organization must operate, and these are not really any more important than the following constraints: The cushy top jobs in the department can be used to pay off political debts; some groups can use the Sanitation Department as an assured source of employment and keep others out, upper management can use its positions as political jumping-off places or training spots, equipment manufacturers use it as an easy mark for shoddy goods; and, finally, the workers are entitled to use it as a source of job security and pensions and an easy way to make a living.[4]

OPD is the penultimate bureaucracy in Oakland—there is no other city service that consumes the resources that it does by multiple measures. OPD takes up 40 percent of the city’s General Fund while another nine percent goes to servicing debt, no small part of which is attributable to the generous Police and Fire Retirement System. The current and retired staff of OPD live overwhelmingly outside of Oakland, meaning that a substantial sum of money contributed to city coffers by the largely working-class and non-white tax-payers is exported to the largely white, upper-middle class suburbs. Additionally, over ten years the City of Oakland has paid out $58 million in settlements to victims of police brutality while regularly exonerating officers for their abuse, payments which ultimately help individual officers avoid accountability for their actions.[5]

Oakland police are among the highest paid employees in the city. In 2011, 178 members of OPD in a department of fewer than 700 received a higher total compensation than Mayor Jean Quan. In fact, nine of the top ten earners among City of Oakland staff were police, including the Chief, two Deputy Chiefs, one Lieutenant, three Sergeants and even two Officers, all of them receiving a total compensation of over $300,000. The following year the trend continued, with seven of the top ten compensation packages going to OPD staff. Looking at base salary alone, the top two earners in 2012 were OPD Chief Howard Jordan at $222,236.69 and his unelected supervisor (who reports directly to the Mayor) City Administrator Deanna Santana who made $273,000. The Mayor—the highest elected official in the City of Oakland—had the 58th highest salary at a mere $137,547.80, which is certainly generous but a bit embarrassing considering that the City Administrator who reports to her made nearly twice that much. Money may not directly translate into power, but we certainly get the picture of a City Hall that prioritizes the unelected bureaucrats in law enforcement over the elected leadership.[6]

These highly paid police officers play an integral role in City Hall politics as well as in the economic environment as they help further the goals of the business community. Business development plans are hardly possible without the efforts of the police to maintain order—repressing riots and other disruptive protests—but they also play a critical role in the day-to-day business operations of the city. Development and gentrification projects require the police to keep the poor, the homeless and the Black and Latino residents out of various quarters designed to reap the business of white professionals. Every stop-and-frisk, every baton blow and every Black teenager murdered by the police is a reminder of a racial status quo and de facto segregation necessary to assure an environment that can accommodate suburban white families and tourists. High crime rates are bad for business and if cops cannot stop crime in advance, they can at least create zones that are perceived to be safe.

The relationship between business and law enforcement was described by Anthony Batts, the Chief of OPD when Mayor Jean Quan was inaugurated in 2011 who resigned days after the establishment of the first Occupy Oakland camp:

I believe police departments are economic drivers. If you have bad stories coming out about crime or bad policing, investors are not going to come to a city. So in an industrial age city that is built much like Oakland has been an industrial age power house, it has to redo itself, it has to re-engineer itself with a different economy, and in order for that to happen you have to have a lot of investment, whether its federal funds or from private investors to come. Nobody’s going to invest in a city when you have a high crime rate so you have to drop that.[7]

There are clearly those in law enforcement who realize the critical role they play in the business environment, and many in the business community who realize how critical the police are to their investment plans. In fact, the decisions of these two groups in investing and protecting private property can have far more influence than the relatively minor impact of a city government that shuttles funds around to accommodate them. Businesses leaders and police staff may spend their entire careers in a city like Oakland, while councilmembers and mayors come and go every four to eight years and likely feel beholden to the permanent forces in the city, rather than the other way around.

Whether or not individual police officers appreciate their effect on the business environment, or simply accept the racist logic of their role as occupiers in Black and Latino communities, their paychecks are nonetheless contingent on the business environment of their employing city. The amount of money brought in by various property and real estate taxes is directly related to the state of the economy and the wealth brought in by residential homeowners and employers. A city that sees its wealth fleeing in the form of white-flight to the suburbs and tourism weakened by concerns about crime and public safety will inevitably find its coffers drained by lower tax revenue and the police budget may suffer along with it.

Serving and protecting itself

The protection of OPD by city officials has reached extraordinary measures in recent years. To give one example, the Oakland City Council voted to pay $40,000 in punitive damages assessed on an individual officer who strip-searched men in public. The city had no obligation to pay these damages, which were assessed as a punishment on the officer who committed this outrageous offense. This move by the City Council both protected and gave a green light to abusive officers, exposing precisely why the department has been incapable—or rather uninterested—in reforming itself. Examples like these beg the question: does the Oakland Police Department protect and serve Oakland, or does the City of Oakland protect and serve OPD?[8]

In opposition to the bureaucratic perspective is the commonly held view of police departments as military operations. This assumes that police departments are strictly hierarchical with a precise chain of command, leading straight up to the Chief and to City Hall, in which orders are given and followed and insubordination is strictly forbidden. Yet, there is a significant difference between police and military chains of command, as described in one study of police bureaucracy:

In the military, the decision to mobilize is made by order from the top of the chain of command on downward; whereas in the police organization, it is the officer on the street who “makes the decisions that mobilize the bureaucracy,” often alone, and almost always without direct, on-site supervision.[9]

This gives a better sense as to why individual officers get away with misconduct so often. Yes, their brutality is purposefully implemented as part of gentrification policies in order to keep the poor, Black and Latino populations repressed and out of sight, but it is also the case that individual officers carry an enormous amount of power by the design of the police institution itself. Each time an officer’s conduct is questioned, the entire decision-making structure of the police is potentially under scrutiny and multiple layers of leadership, both inside the department and in City Hall, defend the correctness of the decision in order to avoid dealing with the process. The extent of this decision-making power was once described by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren in stark terms:

The policeman on the beat, or in the patrol car, makes more decisions and exercises broader discretion affecting the daily lives on people every day and to a greater extent, in many respects, than a judge will ordinarily exercise in a week.[10]

The result is a process in which individual officers carry an enormous amount of power, not only on the streets but in the political process as well, as politicians refuse to either disrupt the workings of the institution or appear remotely “soft on crime.”

For over a decade, OPD has operated under a Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) resulting from a lawsuit in which a rookie officer testified that a group of officers known as “The Riders” were guilty of abuse, planting evidence and false arrests. The scandal enveloped the entire department and led to a $10.9 million settlement and the NSA, a series of reforms that OPD must comply with under the close watch of a Federal court monitor who reports to Federal Judge Thelton Henderson.[11] However, years have gone by with OPD showing little progress or even backsliding on the prescribed reforms, leading one retired OPD commander to admit that they “goofed around for the first five years” of the NSA.[12]

In fact, the Oakland police have openly flaunted their disapproval of the Mayors of Oakland and Judge Henderson during this period. Court filings in the Riders case in late 2012, which sought federal receivership of the police department by the plaintiffs, exposed some of the insulting, childish and offensive attitudes that members of the department expressed of the people who are ostensibly their superiors. In one instance, pictures of Quan and Henderson were found at OPD headquarters covered in racially charged graffiti, including one depicting Quan as a dragon. In another, photos were found of Quan and her predecessor, Mayor Ron Dellums, believed to have been used as dartboards. In 2012 an OPD Sergeant told a Citizens Police Academy—an educational series open to the public—that Henderson “has an agenda” and was “in the SLA [Symbionese Liberation Army]”—a left-wing guerilla organization in the 1970s. [13] In case their intentions were not clear, another flier was left at the OPD shooting range depicting a World War II pilot with the text, “You shut the fuck up. We’ll protect America. Keep out of our fucking way, liberal pussies.”[14] With these attitudes flaunted around the department, it should be no surprise that OPD has refused to cooperate with the court’s reform efforts or follow orders from City Hall.

The Mayor of Oakland does not oversee OPD directly. Rather, the City Administrator, who is appointed by the Mayor and serves at her discretion, directly oversees the department and the Chief reports directly to her.[15] Therefore, there is a chain of command, or at least a path of hiring and firing, directly from the lowest OPD rookie officer through the City Administrator and into the Mayor’s office. Yet, in dealing with Occupy Oakland, we have the extraordinary case in which an indecisive Mayor was at times pressured and possibly even overruled by City Hall staff who reported to her, including some in the law enforcement branch of the City of Oakland.

As Jean Quan moved from her seat in the Oakland City Council to the Mayor’s office in 2010, OPD saw in her not an ally but a mortal enemy—a former Berkeley radical no less. Heightening this tension was an incident shortly before she was elected in which Quan and Rebecca Kaplan, her fellow Councilmember and Mayoral opponent, linked arms in front of a police line at a protest for Oscar Grant, a young man murdered by police while lying face down on a rapid transit platform in Oakland. The police were furious about the incident and considered pressing charges. “[Quan and Kaplan] were encouraging people not to listen to us,” an officer told the San Francisco Chronicle. “If we had needed to go into the crowd, we shouldn’t have to worry about going through a council member first.”[16] With the arrival of the Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall it was almost inevitable that Quan, with a liberal background and progressive base of support, would soon come into conflict with the forces of law and order inside her police department. Much of the tension played out between Quan and her office and that of City Administrator Deanna Santana over whether and how to evict the camp and in dealing with the political liabilities thereafter.

These events, in which a liberal mayor had to deal with a disruptive protest movement literally at her office doorstep, led to the rare circumstance that Oakland found itself in. Quan was perpetually torn between siding with the protesters, whose broad message was widely supported by the people of Oakland, and siding with the police and the business community, who wanted an end to the disturbances in the downtown area. This was just two years after a series of protests and riots erupted throughout Oakland in response to Oscar Grant’s murder, often near the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway where the Occupy Oakland encampment resided, during which it became common for businesses to board up their windows to protect from vandalism. The fear from the Oakland establishment was that the city would become known as “dangerous” and “violent,” harming efforts to transform the city’s image into one that is hospitable to San Francisco transplants. The resulting situation provides a case study of what happens when the elected city leadership and the police department it runs do not see eye-to-eye. Rather than a strict following of orders by the police and Quan’s underlings, we find a series of maneuvers and even outright insubordination that were highly successful at manipulating the Mayor as she vacillated between confusion and inconsistency.

Occupy Oakland

Occupy Oakland was launched on October 10, 2011, with a rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza, the park in front of Oakland City Hall that was renamed Oscar Grant Plaza. Dozens of people slept in tents through the night without a permit, including Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks. The next day, East Bay members of Congress Barbara Lee and Pete Stark released messages of support for the movement.[17] A series of emails released in early 2012 as part of a Public Records Act request shows the thinking—and the tensions—behind the scenes as various City Hall players fought for their positions in the brewing crisis. For example, a previously-scheduled permitted march the following Saturday was planned from Laney College to the Plaza, sponsored by MoveOn.org and including Quan as a speaker, sent multiple City of Oakland staff scurrying to figure out how to proceed. Deputy Mayor Sharon Cornu and OPD Chief of Staff Sergeant Christopher Bolton even discussed discouraging Quan from participating in the march.[18]

According to Quan’s long-time friend and then-legal advisor Dan Siegel,[19] Quan “faced an enormous amount of pressure from all sides,” both in favor of cooperating with Occupy Oakland by more progressive members of her staff, as well as pressure from those concerned about maintaining a “tough on crime” posture. An early email exchange that highlights these growing tensions occurred on October 13, 2011, between Cornu and Deputy City Administrator Arturuo Sanchez about how to deal with the camp on its fourth day. Sanchez mentioned handing out a flier to the campers asking them to leave voluntarily, to which Cornu responded, “Reviewed the plan with the Mayor. She is concerned about perception of clampdown, creating martyrs.” Sanchez replied to the overly sharp rebuke coming from the Mayor’s office, “We are not clamping down? I specifically stated that we had discussed it and choose instead to send out flyer asking them to decamp and then take a wait & see approach on Monday. Not sure why that would come across as clamping down?” Sanchez continued to reassure Cornu about the feasibility of a police action but foresaw a potential problem:

I would only want [Quan] away from city hall so she does not on a whim decide to go walk in protest and engage in any way, as she may be apt to do.. (but that’s a fear because she has historically been seen as pro demonstrator which in light of weeks press would exacerbate the problem perception)[20]

Thus, two City of Oakland staff members discussed how best to manage the highest-ranking executive official in order to better coordinate an unpopular police action around her possible intervention.

The raid was carried out in the early morning hours of October 25, as OPD made arrests and shut down the plaza, removing the tents, kitchen equipment, library and other remnants of the camp. That evening, protesters assembled blocks away from the plaza and marched to take it back. While the grassy area of the camp remained enclosed by temporary fencing, a confrontation between police and protesters led to the police releasing tear gas and firing less lethal projectiles, striking Iraq veteran Scott Olsen in the head and causing a serious brain injury.

The next day, Quan was already found running for cover in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

[Quan said] that she was not involved in the planning and did not even know when the action was going to take place. The decision to raid the camp outside City Hall was made by City Administrator Deanna Santana on Oct. 19 with consultation from interim Police Chief Howard Jordan after campers repeatedly blocked paramedics and police from entering the camp despite reports of violence and injuries . . . Santana said she and Jordan decided on the 3 a.m. Tuesday morning time [on October 25] because that’s when they anticipated the fewest campers. [21]

As per Sanchez’s request, the raid was carried out while Quan was on a trip to Washington, D.C., only to return the evening after the raid.

Quan’s attempts to dodge responsibility produced a sturdy rebuke from Santana and Jordan. Reports vary on exactly what happened behind the scenes, including one later interview with Santana in the Oakland Tribune where she further described how she herself decided that the camp needed to be evicted. The interviewer asserted that “[Santana] did offer to resign after the backlash resulting from her order to forcibly remove the Occupy Oakland camp from Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.”[22] Another news story at the time of the second raid on the camp (which was reestablished the day after Olsen was injured), printed by the same publisher stated that “City Hall sources said City Administrator Deanna Santana was ready to resign over how Quan handled the Oct. 25 police raid on the camp, but was talked out of it by another City Hall leader. A Santana spokesperson said the two are working well together.”[23] According to Siegel, however, Quan was given an ultimatum. “From what I heard, Jordan and Santana got together with Jean and told her, basically, ‘You better stop this bullshit or we’re both quitting.’”

Up to this point, Quan appears to have been under the delusion that she could protect her progressive credentials and voting base by wiping her hands clean of the entire affair. It seems possible that the ex-radical even convinced herself that she was in no position of power to control the police or the business community, who desired this outcome. Given an inch of discretion, OPD and the City Administrator took a mile, and rather than put her foot down as some in her administration—like Siegel—desired, Quan simply allowed the plan to commence and was then pressured to take full responsibility for it. What is extraordinary is how smoothly the various bureaucrats beneath her lined up to assure that an effective “law and order” response was carried out.

The delusion of being able to play both sides of the issue was even more clearly displayed by Quan’s husband, Floyd Huen. We cannot assume that Huen’s statements and intentions exactly mirror those of his wife, but his actions are significant since he has been the major adviser in her political career for decades, both on the campaign trial and in office, according to Siegel. It seems highly unlikely that he would not have been either in touch with her, or in tune with her overall intentions, or fully aware that his actions would reflect upon his wife’s standing as Mayor.

Following the October 25 raid on the camp, for example, Huen was concerned that Occupy Oakland would target his home, presumably with vandalism or even violence. Hours after the eviction—but before the march back to the Plaza that resulted in Olsen’s injury—Huen emailed City Hall staff and requested the police protect his home and his entire neighborhood from angry marchers. “[I]t is ironic that we have to ask for police protection against the Left as opposed the right wing,” Huen wrote to Cornu and Sanchez,[24] an irony that he hardly seemed to appreciate. Yet, in spite of Huen’s request for police protection, he participated in the Oakland General Strike on November 2, called in response to OPD’s violent repression while evicting the camp. He was even described by the UC Berkeley student newspaper as “overseeing the blockade” which shut down the Port of Oakland and proudly told another journalist from the same newspaper that the Port blockade was “the most effective action we’re doing here.”[25] At one moment, he is calling on the police to protect him from the demonstrators, at the next he is joining these demonstrations to protest the police! There are so many contradictory and confused actions by Quan and Huen during these days that it is hardly possible to disentangle their multiple possible motivations, from protecting their political careers and personal safety to protecting their guilty consciences for allowing police repression against the citizens of Oakland to be ordered.

“We are confused”

Police opposition to the Mayor erupted in its most public form on November 1, the eve of the General Strike, when the Oakland Police Officers’ Association (OPOA)—the OPD officers’ union—wrote an open letter to the city of Oakland, although clearly directed at Quan herself:

As your police officers, we are confused. On Tuesday, October 25th, we were ordered by Mayor Quan to clear out the encampments at Frank Ogawa Plaza and to keep protesters out of the Plaza . . . Then, on Wednesday, October 26th, the Mayor allowed protesters back in—to camp out at the very place they were evacuated from the day before. To add to the confusion, the Administration issued a memo on Friday, October 28th to all City workers in support of the “Stop Work” strike scheduled for Wednesday, giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off.[26] That’s hundreds of City workers encouraged to take off work to participate in the protest against “the establishment.” But aren’t the Mayor and her Administration part of the establishment they are paying City employees to protest? Is it the City’s intention to have City employees on both sides of a skirmish line? It is all very confusing to us.[27]

The OPOA was not confused at all, in fact they hit the nail on the head. Quan was running for political cover by playing both sides of the issue, allowing Santana and Jordan to raid the camp while deliberately keeping herself at arms length to protect her progressive credentials. A series of efforts were carried out to manage her—beginning with her staff working around her, to Santana and Jordan objecting to her public posture, and most visibly this letter calling out her attempts to avoid responsibility. Having seized the initiative, the bureaucracy was not about to allow Quan to avoid responsibility for actions they believed she should have insisted on in the first place.

The power and significance of this letter should not be understated. It gives lie to the idea that the police are simply following orders from City Hall in a military command fashion. Unlike the actual military, where soldiers and sailors are restricted from criticizing the Commander in Chief—the President of the United States—while in uniform, police are allowed to publish critical statements from a web site which contains the Oakland Police Department insignia. The fact that they are even allowed to unionize is yet another sign of their relative power and differentiation from the military. Rather than being punished, they are coddled for their criticism because, as Siegel says, “there is nothing that terrifies Quan more than a press release from the OPOA.” Even for the most progressive, liberal Democrats, the thought of being tarnished as “soft on crime” by the police from their own city is a potential career-ender.

If the military view of the police were correct, we would expect the confusion in the Mayor’s office to be displayed by the police as well. In fact, the opposite is true. The OPD bureaucracy and the City Administrator’s office took advantage of Quan’s indecision to carry out the plan most desired by the law enforcement and the business community in Oakland. Having seized the opportunity, they were hardly willing to allow themselves to be criticized for their actions and turned quickly on the Mayor.

As late as August 2012, Quan was still talking about how the disastrous raid on the camp and the confrontation that followed was largely out of her hands and, in fact, designed to discredit her. “The theory among some of my left friends and among some members of my family was that I was set up,” she said. “You know, I was out of town, they closed down the camp a day early and then overreacted. Certain people in the police had tried to set me up before. I mean, my car got booted right after the election . . . To send the message that they can do what they want. That I better watch out.”[28]

Avoiding federal receivership

The City of Oakland’s efforts to avoid federal receivership over OPD, and thus lose their authority, came to fruition in the year following Occupy Oakland. Quan appointed Thomas Frazier to perform an independent study of the department’s response to Occupy Oakland. Frazier ended up producing a report that was more independent than expected, especially for Santana, who was caught attempting to remove sections on the Scott Olsen incident. How she would have thought that nobody would notice that the most notorious incident of police violence was missing from the report is inexplicable, until we remember that she was merely playing her role in protecting the bureaucracy. Her constituency is not only the people of Oakland or the Mayor’s office under which she serves, but the powerful bureaucracy that she runs and which will continue long after she is gone. For his efforts to withstand these attempts by Santana, Frazier was appointed to be the OPD Compliance Directory by an impressed Judge Henderson, an agreement reached by the city to avoid the stain of receivership while accepting much of it in practice.

A year later, Henderson fired Frazier, noting that having both a Compliance Director overseeing OPD and a Monitor reporting on its progress was “unnecessarily duplicative and has been less efficient and more expensive.” The Compliance Director position was then taken by Robert Warshaw, the Monitor of several years. By a bureaucratic miracle, Warshaw was reporting a year later that OPD was finally succeeding–under his own watch.[29]

None of this is to say that OPD simply runs the City of Oakland with no consequences whatsoever. Police officers and chiefs are fired, disciplined and forced out of the department and even laid off during budget crises, but this occurs when the consequences to the careers of those in City Hall are so severe that they are left with few other options. The example of Officer Mayer, who strip-searched men in public, is a case in point. The consequences to the careers of Oakland City Councilmembers to vote against paying his punitive damages would have been the vocal objections of police officers and their union. Voting to pay these damages, on the other hand, only provided minimal, short-term outrage in the form of a handful of newspaper articles and the complaints of activists. The problem came and went. The organized bitterness of the OPOA and individual police officers, on the other hand, does not simply disappear after a day or two but rather accumulates and is stored up for election years when the supposed opponents of the police can be challenged in the electoral arena. In the meantime, not having the cooperation of the police can have extraordinary political power in their daily work routine can be disastrous for Mayors and City Councilmembers.

The tenure of OPD Chief Wayne Tucker ending in 2009 provides the opposite example of nepotism and political power struggles inside OPD that were so obvious that City Hall was forced to act—in defense of their own legitimacy. Tucker was on the verge of a vote of no confidence by OPOA, which was scuttled after he promoted OPOA President Robert Valladon to the non-existent position of Acting Sergeant—with a pension boost that was quite existent.[30] Tucker was soon forced out but only after a series of scandals that ultimately were far too embarrassing for City Hall to ignore. One was the delay by several days of a raid on Your Black Muslim Bakery, which was accused of widespread criminal behavior, so that an OPD Captain and Deputy Chief could return from vacation—and reap the glory of participating. During the delay, journalist Chauncey Bailey, who was on the verge of releasing an exposé on the bakery, was murdered.[31] Another scandal occurred when Valladon’s son was hired as an Officer in spite of a serious medical condition and a petty larceny conviction. In charge of recruitment and background checks at the time was OPOA Vice President Dom Arotzarena. These, and several other incidents, finally moved the City Council to discuss a no-confidence vote long after they should have taken such an action, forcing Tucker to resign due to an overwhelming display of incompetence and corruption. Arotzarena, who by that time had taken over as OPOA President, reportedly said that “in the past few months the relationship [between OPOA and the Chief] has been as good as it ever was.” With such mutual back scratching between the leadership and the rank-and-file of the OPD bureaucracy, one can imagine why.[32]

While this article has focused on OPD, it should not be assumed that these same dynamics do not apply elsewhere. For example, in New York City we would never know if NYPD was prepared to challenge Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s approach to Occupy Wall Street because Bloomberg showed himself to be a consistent defender of the police and their actions. However, when New York Mayors have objected to the police or demanded accountability for misconduct, they have received the wrathful vengeance of the city’s officers. For example, in 1992, New York Mayor David Dinkins proposed an independent civilian review board to oversee NYPD abuse cases and was met by an unlawful and unruly protest of 10,000 cops, “egged on” by his Republican Mayoral opponent—and successor—Rudolph Giuliani.[33] Much earlier, one of the defining moments of the drive to unionize police occurred in New York under similar circumstances. In 1966, Mayor John Lindsay announced the creation of a civilian review board which was eventually overturned by a voter referendum. Leading the campaign against the review board was John Cassese, President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. At one point, Lindsay and Cassese nearly took part in a publicly televised debate before Cassese withdrew, deeming it unnecessary, “and New York was spared the ludicrous sight of a big city mayor debating one of his patrolmen.” Once again, the politics of policing and the power of the bureaucracy to buck elected leaders won out over reform as the referendum succeeded in abolishing the board by a nearly two-to-one vote.[34]

These examples in Oakland and New York show that the tame, legalistic efforts of liberal mayors to reform the police generally go nowhere. The police as an institution with their large membership, support in the business community, well-organized unions and years of ideological campaigns are virtually untouchable for the occasional well-meaning reformer. With their monopoly on the means of violence and unwillingness to accommodate any perceived threat to their careers, the entire bureaucracy of police organizations go year after year with little change, Oakland being only one of the more clear examples of this.

The operations of the Oakland police are certainly outrageous on many levels. It is outrageous that most Oakland police live outside of Oakland, taking their bloated salaries and pensions with them to the suburbs, and it is even more outrageous that officers who beat and kill Black and Brown youth are allowed to continue their careers. These aspects of the Oakland Police Department should be fought, but changing these individual characteristics will not fundamentally alter the nature of policing in an unequal and racist society. As long as there are wealthy interests with property to protect, with development and gentrification plans to pursue and with white upper-middle class dollars to chase, the police will be a tool to maintain the status quo of exploitation and segregation regardless of who is in office.

Quan is only one example of a mayor who will run into problems with the police. We can imagine a far more radical effort to intervene in city government, electing candidates with a deeper program and stiffer backbone who attempt to take on the interests of a city like Oakland. However, we should not expect the police to roll over in this situation and accommodate drastic reform, in fact we should expect them to be an obstacle every step of the way, from public, political opposition to out-and-out sabotage. The people who are recruited and retained by police departments and the structures that protect them have proven that they do not submit to change easily or willingly or even at all.

We cannot expect to simply fix the police so they will work in the interests of the poor and oppressed. Rather than being reformed into an institution that can protect society against reactionary and predatorial elites, the institution itself needs to be abolished and replaced with something else entirely.

Scott Jay lives in Oakland, CA. He was involved in Occupy Oakland and the Justice for Alan Blueford campaign.

Notes

[1] By “bureaucracy” we are less concerned with formal definitions of an organization with rules, hierarchy, etc., although OPD certainly fits this description. Rather, we are more concerned with its informal negative connotation as an institution of unelected staff and administrators within a political machine that inefficiently carries out its mandate in favor of its own self-reproduction.

[2] One of the earliest examples can be found in George L. Kelling, Tony Pate, Duane Dieckman, Charles E. Brown, “The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment,” Police Foundation, 1974.

[3] Michael E. Milakovich and Kurt Weis, “Politics and Measures of Success in the War on Crime,” Crime and Delinquency, Volume 21, January 1975.

[4] Charles Perrow, “Disintegrating Social Sciences,” The Phi Delta Kappan, Volume 63, Number 10, June 1982.

[5] Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham, “The High Costs of Outsourcing Police,” East Bay Express, August 8, 2012, http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/the-high-costs-of-outsourcing-policeandnbsp/Content?oid=3306199

[6] Salaries and compensation packages are based on the annual Public Records Act requests published by the San Jose Mercury News. Further information about 2011 earnings can be found here: http://stopopd.wordpress.com/financials/. Data on 2012 are based on that year’s request but have not yet been published at the time of this writing.

[7] “Episode #13: Anthony Batts, Oakland Police Chief,” The Criminal Justice Podcasts with David Onek, http://www.law.berkeley.edu/8418.htm

[8] Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham, “Police-Related Legal Costs Spike in Oakland,” East Bay Express, June 27, 2012, http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/police-related-legal-costs-spike-in-oakland/Content?oid=3260236

[9] Jeanne B. Stinchcombe, “Beyond Bureaucracy: A Reconsideration of the ‘Professional’ Police,” Police Studies, Volume 3, Issue 1 (1980-1981), p53.

[10] Stinchombe, op cit, p54.

[11] Monica Cruz-Rosas, “Twelve Years after the Riders, a long legal process is reaching its final stage,” Oakland North, December 20, 2011, http://oaklandnorth.net/2011/12/20/twelve-years-after-the-riders-a-long-legal-process-is-reaching-its-final-stage/. In spite of the title, the NSA has remained in full affect one-and-half years later.

[12] Shoshana Walter, “Oakland Police Caught Between Reform and Crime Surge,” The Bay Citizen, April 19, 2012, https://www.baycitizen.org/news/policing/oakland-police-caught-between-reform-and/.

[13] Ali Winston, “Disturbing New Evidence About OPD,” East Bay Express, October 10, 2012, http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/disturbing-new-evidence-about-opd/Content?oid=3359413.

[14] Winston and BondGraham, “The High Costs of Outsourcing Police,” op cit.

[15] Oakland previously had a more powerful City Manager who was appointed by the City Council, but that was changed by two “Strong Mayor” initiatives giving the Mayor supervision over the new City Administrator position, including hiring and firing. See Oakland’s updated Charter for details: http://www.municode.com/Library#/CA/Oakland/Code_of_Ordinances/toc/THCHOA

[16] Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, “Oakland cops probing 2 councilwomen at protest,” San Francisco Chroncile, July 14, 2010, http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/matier-ross/article/Oakland-cops-probing-2-councilwomen-at-protest-3181894.php.

[17] Sean Maher, “Councilmember camps overnight with Occupy Oakland protesters,” October 11, 2011, http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_19087482

[18] These City Hall Emails (CHE) can be found here: http://www.mercurynews.com/documents/ci_20040081. Note that the spelling and punctuation from the original emails is left uncorrected. This citation references p79-80.

[19] Dan Siegel has known Jean Quan since they were students together at UC Berkeley in the late 1960s and he would later serve as her unpaid legal adviser after she was elected Mayor. He resigned in November 2011 on the eve of the second raid on Occupy Oakland in protest of her actions and his law firm has since represented many activists in Occupy-related legal battles, including one involving this author. All quotes and information from Siegel are based on an interview conducted at his law office in March 2013.

[20] Op. cit. p138-140.

[21] “Occupy Oakland: Jean Quan ‘I don’t know everything,’” San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 2011, http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Occupy-Oakland-Jean-Quan-I-don-t-know-2325178.php.

[22] “Drummond: Oakland City Administrator Santana in her words,” Oakland Tribune, July 29, 2012, http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_21175745/tammerlin-drummond-oakland-city-administrator-santana-her-words.

[23] “Occupy Oakland Live Blog: Police outnumber protesters at Ogawa plaza,” http://www.mercurynews.com/occupy/ci_19331752.

[24] Retrieved from the City of Oakland’s City Clerk, Public Records Act request #14540.

[25] “Protesters shut down maritime operations at Port of Oakland,” The Daily Californian, November 3, 2011, http://www.dailycal.org/2011/11/03/protesters-shut-down-maritime-operations-at-port-of-oakland/ and “UC Berkeley, faculty speak out against cuts to education at general strike in Oakland,” The Daily Californian, November 2, 2011, http://www.dailycal.org/2011/11/02/uc-berkeley-faculty-speak-out-against-cuts-to-education-at-general-strike-in-oakland/.

[26] There is no record of a memo from this date in the CHE, however CHE p928 shows a memo was released from the Mayor’s office, approved by Santana (CHE p925), on October 30 that states: “City employees who wish to support the General Strike have been authorized to request approval from their supervisor to use the normal process for requesting a day or partial day off—using leave or floating furlough day, or if those have been exhausted, requesting a partial day off without pay. Sick leave will not apply. Each request will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in terms of the impact on the City’s day-to-day services.”

[27] “An Open Letter to the Citizens of Oakland from the Oakland Police Officers’ Association,” November 1, 2011, https://www.opoa.org/an-open-letter-to-the-citizens-of-oakland-from-the-oakland-police-officers-association/.

[28] Jonathan Mahler, “Oakland, The Last Refuge of Radical America”, August 1, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/magazine/oakland-occupy-movement.html.

[29] Ali Winston, “Deanna Santana Tried to Alter Damning Report,” East Bay Express, September, 19, 2012, http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/deanna-santana-tried-to-alter-damning-report/Content?oid=3341245. Matthew Artz, “Judge fires Oakland police overseer in surprise shake-up,” Oakland Tribune, February 12, 2014, http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_25127902/judge-fires-oakland-police-overseer-surprise-shake-up. Will Kane, “Oakland police monitor notes progress on compliance,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 30, 2014, http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Oakland-police-monitor-notes-progress-on-5440218.php.

[30] “FBI Launches Wide Probe Into Oakland Police Department”, KTVU, January 23, 2009, http://www.ktvu.com/news/news/fbi-launches-wide-probe-into-oakland-police-depart/nKd4n/.

[31] Thomas Peele and Bob Butler, “Delayed raid likely cost Chauncey Bailey his life,” The Chauncey Bailey Project, December 16th, 2008, http://www.chaunceybaileyproject.org/2008/12/16/delayed-raid-likely-cost-chauncey-bailey-his-life/.

[32] Kelly Rayburn, Sean Maher and Thomas Peele, “Oakland police chief resigns, blasts City Council,” The Oakland Tribune, January 27, 2009, http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_11563667.

[33] “Officers Rally And Dinkins Is Their Target,” The New York Times, September 17, 1992, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/09/17/nyregion/officers-rally-and-dinkins-is-their-target.html.

[34] See William J. Bopp, “The New York City Referendum on Civilian Review,” in William J. Bopp, ed., The Police Rebellion, Springfield, IL, 1971.

Comments

Gregory A. Butler
Dec 21 2014 22:15

"Police' aren't a classless mass

there are stark class differences between the Police Officer in the radio car and the top brass Downtown

Those divisions beget class struggle and that's why police unions exist in the first place - and why, in normal times, they can, and do, coalesce with other public employee unions

Also in the normal course of events police department brass are subordinate to the politicians

However, when the politicians have to make concessions to the working class and the poor, situations can develop where a police coup d'etat could be used by the capitalist class (who stand behind both police brass and civilian politicians) to restore order in a situation

In this case in New York, the Police Officers have worked for 4 years without a contract, have not had a raise in 7 years and new hires are working for food stamp level wages and have had disability benefits cut by 90%

The PBA is one of the few city unions that hasn't signed a concessionary contract with Mayor Bill de Blasio in part because NYPD officers are the lowest paid cops in the Tristate Area - they often patrol side by side with Port Authority cops that make 15% more than them for a far easier job

That's the political climate that is behind the job actions that the PBA have carried out on the job over the last few weeks - including the current summons writing and felony arrest job action they launched when officers Liu and Ramos died yesterday

redriotdog
Dec 24 2014 00:03

This well written piece reminded me of this event at Occupy DC so here is a link to it..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIQn72EQ028

bastarx
Dec 24 2014 05:04

I'm glad the NYPD have shit pay and conditions and hope they get worse.