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City leaders in Oakland are optimistic that a judge will soon end nearly two decades of federal oversight of the city’s police department.

“We await the judge’s orders and I am optimistic that we are proving to the public that we have reformed,” said Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong at a recent new conference following a hearing on the city’s progress regarding 52 reform measures required of the department.

U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick is expected to soon issue an order regarding lifting of a federal monitor’s oversight of Oakland police.

“There’s more work to do — this is never over,” Armstrong said. “Police departments across the country have to always hold themselves to a really high standard.”

“The changes that have been acknowledged and recognized that the Oakland Police Department has accomplished are significant and we have much more work to do…”

Mayor Libby Schaaf

One of the darkest periods in the history of the Oakland Police Department, the case involved members of the OPD’s gang task force, who called themselves the Oakland Riders. A rookie officer’s 2000 complaint against the task force accused members of beating a suspect.

The ensuing investigation of four officers uncovered more accusations of planting drugs, falsely arresting suspects, and falsifying police reports, leading to formal complaints filed by 119 victims. None of the accused officers were convicted of criminal charges, but all four left OPD. One fled the country before he could be tried. The city ended up paying $10.4 million in civil rights claims to victims.

The city also entered into a negotiated settlement agreement requiring the city to enact more than 50 reforms. A federal judge tasked an independent monitor to oversee the city’s completion of the reforms.

A model for progressive policing

At the April 27 news conference, Mayor Libby Schaaf said that when the monitor’s oversight was lifted, there would be a “continual quest” by city leaders to make Oakland’s police department a national model for professional and progressive policing.

“The changes that have been acknowledged and recognized that the Oakland Police Department has accomplished are significant and we have much more work to do — as does the nation in reforming policing, in being more responsive to our communities, in having a higher standard of professionalism,” Schaaf said.

Attorney John Burris, who along with James Chanin, represented the 119 plaintiffs, said in a statement that the end of federal oversight “has been a long, winding road with many stops and starts.”

Burris said he and Chanin stayed on the case for the entire period because “we always believed that this case presented a golden opportunity to change the police culture from top to bottom and create a police force that holds its officers accountable, eliminates disparities both on the street and within the department and above treats the community with respect.”

Despite OPD seemingly becoming a model for more progressive policing across the California, a CalMatters analysis of state Department of Justice data earlier this year said OPD sustains complaints against its officers at a higher rate than any other major law enforcement entity, except the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Complaints against OPD are now handled by both the department’s internal affairs division and a civilian panel overseeing the department, which some say have contributed to officers leaving the department in higher-than-normal numbers.