A historic fight over whether Oakland can reform its own police force began in earnest when civil rights attorneys asked a federal judge to take the unprecedented step of appointing a receiver to ensure the changes are made, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The attorneys said a broken culture in the police department had turned a decadelong reform effort into a “chronic failure,” endangering citizens – especially minorities – and costing the city tens of millions of dollars to settle police-abuse lawsuits.
The lawyers represented more than 100 people who sued the city after four officers, who called themselves the Riders, were accused in 2000 of imposing vigilante justice. In a resulting settlement, Oakland was supposed to implement a raft of reforms – which remain incomplete. “There can be little doubt that further extensions will result in more constitutional violations,” attorneys told federal judge Thelton Henderson, “and cause injuries, and even death, to innocent human beings, including members of the [police department].” Oakland officials, who have spent recent months trying to head off the prospect of federal intervention, disagreed sharply on Thursday. They said finishing the reforms was a top priority for the department, and full compliance was on the horizon. “I think we have made significant progress,” said Police Chief Howard Jordan.