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Captain Ed Tracey head of SWAT operations, talks to the media about the day that four officers were killed in East Oakland and the events that followed with Chief of Police Howard Jordan behind him during a press conference at OPD headquarters in Oakland, Calif. on Monday June 1, 2009. The Oakland Police department called a press conference to update the media on the Oakland Police SWAT team and the "Board of Inquiry" in regards to the investigation into the events of March 21st, 2009. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)

Acting Police Chief Howard Jordan has made the right decision in commissioning law enforcement experts from outside Oakland to investigate the March 21 fatal shootings of four police officers.

Of course, this being Oakland, there were those who immediately saw ulterior motives. Some surmised that Jordan is angling to step into the job as permanent chief and wants to show that he can flex and make the tough decisions.

Regardless, Jordan's announcement Monday is a positive sign that at least some within the OPD brass are serious about reconstructing the chain of events that led to parolee Lovelle Mixon fatally shooting Officer John Hege and Sgts. Mark Dunakin, Erv Romans and Daniel Sakai.

As I wrote shortly after the memorials for the fallen officers, we must have a thorough and transparent investigation into the killings. We owe that to the men whose lives were lost, their families and to the community.

I would never profess to be an expert in police procedures. However, as a reporter, I spent a number of years covering law enforcement in Southern California and Florida.

It's pretty clear to me, based on what we do know, that major tactical errors were made.

The key questions, of course, are these: How did Mixon manage to shoot and wound one and kill four police officers — including two SWAT sergeants — in two locations before he was killed?


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Why did SWAT commanders order the team to storm the apartment building in East Oakland, where Mixon, armed with assault weapons, was holed up in his sister's apartment?

What was the urgency?

Did they storm the building, as some have speculated, to kill the suspect who had fatally shot two of their comrades, only to have the operation backfire?

I can see the smoke coming out of the ears of some police officers. But these are legitimate questions.

I, frankly, have never had much faith that an internal OPD probe would provide a full and honest accounting of the missteps that led to the tragedy.

OPD is still reeling from the darkest day in the department's history. The SWAT team, which had been on hiatus since the killings, just resumed operations Friday.

There are too many people within the department who think OPD should put the tragedy behind it and move on, that it doesn't serve any purpose to examine what mistakes were made, and who was responsible.

I'm afraid it's not that simple.

Four police officers are dead.

Police officials must do everything within their powers to discover what tactical errors contributed to the officers' deaths. We can't bring back the men but we can learn something that can save officers' lives in the future.

Jordan, at least, seems to get that. In announcing the new Board of Inquiry, he said his sole intent "is to provide officers, both in OPD and agencies across the country, with key lessons that may save the lives of future officers."

Jordan has said that the Board of Inquiry will include law enforcement officials from across California. It will be led by Oakland police Capt. Benson Fairow. This is in addition to two ongoing OPD investigations — one by internal affairs and the other by the homicide unit.

I believe it's going to take outside investigators who don't have close OPD ties to resist the tendency to close ranks and bring the facts to light.

Police sources recently told MediaNews that five police commanders, including Deputy Chief David Kozicki, are being investigated by internal affairs in connection with the shootings.

Michael Rains, the attorney representing Kozicki and two other commanders who were at the scene — Capt. Rick Orozco and Lt. Chris Mufarreh — says that they didn't know Mixon was inside the apartment building when the SWAT team stormed in. Internal affairs is investigating the men's version of events.

Anything, of course, is possible. However, I find the claim that police commanders didn't know Mixon was inside the apartment building seriously strains the bounds of credulity.

Police initially told MediaNews reporters that a source had told them Mixon was there.

Now, the story is, shall we say, evolving.

If police commanders didn't think Mixon was inside the apartment, why did SWAT teams surround the building in the first place? Why did they throw in flashbang grenades?

Why focus on that particular building as opposed to any number of others on the block?

It smacks of covering up, which is exactly why Jordan has made the right decision.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Wednesdays in Metro and Sundays in Opinion. Reach her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com.