OAKLAND -- Oakland police announced new crowd-control tactics that will be in place next week when Occupy Oakland undertakes its first major protest since January, and a federal monitor is expected to issue a potentially damning report on the department's handling of earlier Occupy-related protests.
The measures, announced at a Monday news conference, are geared toward improving communication among officers and other police departments assisting at major protests.
Police also will employ small teams of officers capable of infiltrating crowds and removing troublemakers.
"These changes are a critical component of the ongoing effort to reform the department," Chief Howard Jordan said. "We are committed to improving our training, tactics and policies in light of our experiences."
But department critics questioned the timing of Monday's announcement and the department's assertion that by the end of the month all officers will have received meaningful crowd-control training.
Oakland police have been inundated with more than 1,000 misconduct complaints stemming from Occupy Oakland protests since officers first removed the group's encampment from outside City Hall in October.
While many protests were peaceful, several became violent, with protesters sometimes taunting police and officers on occasion blatantly violating protocols. One officer was videotaped beating a retreating Afghanistan War veteran during a Nov. 2 protest, while another was caught on camera firing a bean bag projectile into the leg of a civilian videotaping a line of riot-patrol officers.
Questions on timing
Monday's announcement comes as the department is awaiting two potentially critical reports about its handling of the Occupy protests, which were generally more violent in Oakland than elsewhere.
A city-commissioned consultant, the Frazier Group, and a federal monitor overseeing the Oakland Police Department are both expected to release their findings Monday, officials said.
"The city is just trying to get ahead of the story," said Rashidah Grinage, head of PUEBLO, a group that advocates for police accountability. "They already have a crowd-control policy; they just didn't follow it."
The Occupy protests occurred at a particularly vulnerable time for Oakland police.
A federal judge in January threatened to place the department under federal control if it didn't make significant progress in implementing reforms agreed to nearly a decade ago to settle a federal police misconduct lawsuit.
But the protests raised new doubts about the department's ability to make the required reforms. And, with so many Occupy-related complaints streaming into the department's Internal Affairs Division, police won't be able to complete several key investigations on time, placing the department in further violation of the agreement.
Outline of reforms
Jordan defended his officers' handling of the Occupy protests but said the department needed to do a better job of planning for them and making sure that all officers follow protocols.
The new measures will be included in the department's crowd-control policy, and additional reforms will be implemented based on the findings of the upcoming reports, officials said.
In the interim, the department has begun using additional investigators to handle excessive force accusations, reviewing its procedures with mutual aid partners and meeting a community group formed to make recommendations on crowd-control policies.
Police have also met with journalists and have pledged to train officers in media-related First Amendment rights. Police arrested several journalists at a major protest in January.
Additionally, police said that by the end of the month, every officer will have received about 45 minutes of crowd-management training from the Frazier Group.
That raised red flags with Jim Chanin, the attorney who helped negotiate the 2003 settlement and later this year could ask the federal judge to place the department into receivership.
"I am aware of no sustained training that the Frazier Group has given to all the police officers that are going to be involved in Occupy Oakland," he said. "Other than possibly a single lecture, it's impossible for me to understand how the Frazier Group gave meaningful training."
Bracing for May Day
After several quiet months, Occupy Oakland is staging its first major daytime demonstration on May 1. The group has joined calls for a general strike and is planning a 3 p.m. march from the Fruitvale BART Station to Frank Ogawa Plaza outside City Hall.
The last major Occupy Oakland action included protesters trying to take over an abandoned convention center and then ransacking the lobby of City Hall, while police sealed off several streets and arrested more than 400 people.
Mayor Jean Quan cautioned that mass arrests were not out of the question depending on the protesters' behavior, but hoped that the departmental reforms would help ease tensions.
"What I think is critical is that we're trying to build trust between the community and the Oakland Police Department," she said.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435