While the shake-up of the Oakland police command staff has left officers and residents unsettled, it provides a long-overdue opportunity to restore order within the department and on the streets.
Recent reports by a court-appointed compliance officer and a city consultant describe a department unable to investigate its own members' abuses or stem crime in the community. Internally, management ignored misconduct reports and failed to hold accountable rogue officers and commanders. Externally, police effectively were not investigating burglaries, which increased 43 percent last year.
The findings were buttressed by this newspaper's reporters. Thomas Peele revealed that Oakland police shot more people over the past decade than officers in similar-size California cities with high violent crime rates, such as Fresno or Stockton, and cities more than twice Oakland's size, including San Jose and San Francisco.
Matthew Artz found that Oakland last year recorded the highest rate of robberies per resident of any major American city since 2000.
Chief Howard Jordan never seemed prepared for the challenges. In 2011, under his command, the department botched the first round of Occupy Oakland demonstrations. Meanwhile, he and Mayor Jean Quan were moving to concentrate police in a 100-block area by falsely claiming that was the location of 90 percent of the city's shootings and homicides.
Facts and data seemed not to matter. In 2012, Jordan carelessly opened Oakland up to liability by branding a man one of four most-wanted criminals in the city, yet the person was never charged after his arrest. This year, Jordan wrongly blamed two East Oakland-based gangs for 90 percent of the city's shootings, homicides and murders since last summer.
At the same time, the department made only slight progress toward meeting mandates of a 2003 federal court agreement that settled the Riders police brutality case. Consequently, in December, the city had to hand over department control, including hiring and firing of the chief, to a court-appointed compliance director.
The overseer was about to seek Jordan's ouster when the chief abruptly resigned last week. Deputy Chief Sean Whent, who has a reputation as a reformer and tough, no nonsense internal affairs investigator, was put in charge. While the city looks for a permanent successor, we hope Whent can start turning things around.
That means finding a way to bridge the gap between the department and Judge Thelton Henderson, his independent monitor, Robert Warshaw, and his compliance director, Thomas Frazier. It's time for all parties to work cooperatively to address Henderson's concerns and end the court oversight.
Frazier plans to reopen investigations of past abuse cases. While misconduct must not be tolerated, there also must be recognition of the dangers cops face on the streets every day as they try to curb the city's violence.
Meanwhile, Whent should move to unify the force behind the organizational and crime-fighting strategy laid out by the city-hired consultant, former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. It may not be perfect, but it seems reasonable and a lot better than the status quo.
Residents deserve to feel safe again.