A judge has placed the Oakland Police Department on a one-year probationary period before he makes a decision on whether to release the department from nearly 20 years of federal oversight, court records show.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued the order Thursday in the case of Delphine Allen et al vs. city of Oakland et al after determining police achieved “substantial compliance” with reforms.

Oakland police must maintain “substantial compliance” for a year to be free of the oversight.

“The good news is that the defendants have achieved substantial compliance, and that the path here has led to tangible improvements in policing in Oakland and to the promise that a culture that understands and supports constitutional policing is taking root,” Orrick wrote.

According to a report by the Police Executive Research Forum, a research organization focusing on policing issues, “constitutional policing is legal policing.”

Legal policing operates according to the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and court decisions that spell out what the Constitution means for policing, the report says.

The case against the city of Oakland stemmed from the actions of a group of police officers known as the Riders. A rookie officer’s 2000 complaint against the officers alleged they beat a suspect.

An investigation of four officers uncovered more allegations that the officers planted drugs, falsely arrested suspects, and falsified police reports. That led to formal complaints by 119 victims.

None of the officers were convicted of criminal charges, but all four left the department. One fled the country before he could be tried. The city paid $10.4 million in civil rights claims to the victims.

Complying with reforms

Oakland police are in compliance with all but one reform, attorney John Burris said in an interview Friday. Police are in partial compliance with their consistency of discipline of Black officers.

“This is an extraordinarily important point,” Burris said, because an officer’s pay and promotion depend on their disciplinary record.

Burris and attorney James Chanin sued the city and Oakland Police Department in 2000 over the alleged police misconduct and have been on the case ever since.

Burris and Chanin took a “holistic approach” in the case, looking at racial profiling and how officers are treated on the inside of the department, Burris said.

“Police are only held accountable if there is overwhelming popular and political will demanding accountability. These legal settlements and consent decrees cannot stop police from being police.”

Cat Brooks, Anti Police-Terror Project

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Burris said of the potential for the federal oversight to end.

Orrick said the probationary period is “not a free pass,” Burris said.

“You have to stay in compliance,” Burris said Orrick told police.

Burris said as lawyers, “Our job is not done.”

That’s clearly the sentiment of the Anti Police-Terror Project, which alleged Friday that racism, corruption and violence remain prevalent in the department.

“A casual chat with almost any Black or Brown Oaklander will reveal how little the Oakland Police Department has ‘reformed,’” APTP co-founder Cat Brooks said in a statement. “Federal oversight was never going to keep us safe, and it’s both expensive and ineffective.”

Brooks added, “Police are only held accountable if there is overwhelming popular and political will demanding accountability. These legal settlements and consent decrees cannot stop police from being police.”

‘Momentous’ decision

But Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said the decision is “momentous.” He said many thought a decision like Thursday’s would never come.

“By issuing the court order putting the City of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department into the one-year sustainability period of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, U.S. District Judge William Orrick acknowledged the hard work of the women and men of our Department, City Attorney’s Office, Mayor, and Police Commission,” Armstrong said.

The starting date for the probationary period may be June 1, 2022, he said. He said “OPD actions must always be constitutional, fair, equitable, and just for all.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called it a “historic moment in Oakland.”

Police were required to make reforms in more than 50 areas.

“Nearly 20 years ago, we agreed to a negotiated settlement agreement rather than a consent decree and held ourselves to a higher standard of police reform and accountability because our community deserved nothing less,” Schaaf said.

She expressed her gratitude to each Oakland police officer and said, “You are the authors of the next chapter of policing in Oakland and America.”

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.