OAKLAND -- A city-commissioned report into the first violent Occupy Oakland protest found that police made numerous mistakes that are indicative of major shortcomings within the department.
The 82-page report, overseen by former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier, faulted police for failing to adequately plan for the Oct. 25 nighttime protest that followed the evacuation of the Occupy Oakland encampment. It also criticized the department's handling of demonstrators and the ensuing investigation of officers whose actions might have might have warranted criminal prosecution.
"The crowd control tactics used by OPD are outdated, dangerous and ineffective," Frazier wrote, adding that "many assigned investigators and supervisors lack the technical proficiency and, in many cases, the experience to conduct comprehensive, aggressive and unbiased investigations."
Frazier also wrote that Oakland's arsenal of less-than-lethal weapons was outdated and dangerous. He didn't say whether their use against protesters was justified.
He quoted Internal Affairs officers warning that the investigative unit was overwhelmed with work. "The sink is overflowing, but we are not turning off the faucet," one officer told Fraizer.
City leaders released the report at a Thursday afternoon news conference, where they acknowledged that the findings were damning and risked damaging police morale.
"We're really not afraid of the truth," Mayor
Frazier, whose consulting firm was paid $100,000 for the report, was not present at the news conference. City leaders, who have had the report since late April, said they had already begun addressing nearly three-fourths of the 68 recommendations and that the new policies are responsible for the improved handling of Occupy Oakland's May 1 protests.
"I ask that you not only judge us by the mistakes that were made, but also by how we correct them," Police Chief Howard Jordan said. He called the report "a road map" to improving the department.
The city hired Frazier in December to investigate the police department's handling of the Oct. 25 protests, when thousands of demonstrators moved to retake Frank H. Ogawa Plaza after police removed dozens of protesting campers early that morning.
During the heated confrontations, an Oakland police officer fired a bean-bag projectile that hit one protester, Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, in the head. As other demonstrators tried to care for him, another officer fired a tear-gas canister at them.
In one of the most damning findings, Frazier wrote that the department's Tango Team officers, who are equipped with the less-than-lethal munitions, did not fill out records that night showing that they were issued the munitions or that they used them.
Frazier also questioned whether officers at the scene gave an honest accounting of the Olsen incident. "The fact that no law enforcement officer, supervisor or commander observed the person falling down or prostrate in the street during the confrontation was both unsettling and not believable," he wrote.
Frazier wrote that the department mishandled the criminal investigation of officers involved in the Olsen incident and urged police to reopen the investigation. Jordan said the criminal investigation was never closed and remains ongoing.
The Frazier report comes as Oakland's police department faces a potential federal takeover for failing to implement reforms spelled out in a 2003 agreement that settled the Riders police misconduct case.
Jim Chanin, an attorney for the plaintiffs in that case, said the Frazier report made it even more likely that he will pursue receivership for the department later this year. "We simply can't wait to see who else goes to the hospital or is seriously wounded or killed next time," he said. "We need to see performance, and that's the one thing we have not seen at all."
City officials said that several recent proposals have come in response to the Frazier report. The city plans to move the Office of Inspector General out of the police department and to pay for a second police academy to keep the ranks from falling below 640 officers.
Fraizer wrote that the police understaffing was a major cause for the department's struggle handling the protest, noting that officers from other departments intermingled with Oakland police tactical teams when working separately would have been more effective. Frazier also praised Jordan and his top deputies for trying to change the department's culture but wrote that much work still needed to be done. "We did not see (Oakland police) historically as a 'learning organization -- one which senior leadership has placed a high value on succession planning, career development, formal training and post-incident reviews designed to provide departmental members the opportunity to learn from, and to improve from, recent experiences."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6345.