Civilianizing Internal Affairs

Alas, I really wanted to have a long post for you guys today about the ongoing efforts to civilianize the citizen complaints aspects of the Oakland Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division, but it just didn’t happen. The unfortunate combination of AT&T’s lackluster customer service and my bad temper has rendered me without home internet access for the moment, which makes blogging…well…kind of difficult.

In any case, I know this is a topic of great interest to a large number of people, and so I wanted to mention that tonight the Bay Area Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club will be hosting a panel discussion about Oakland politics and policing featuring the Berkeley Daily Planet’s J. Douglas Allen Taylor, PUEBLO’s Rashidah Grinage, and me. While the scope of the discussion is not limited to policing (the City budget and July’s special election are both also on the agenda), the movement to civilianize internal affairs will undoubted be a major issue, as both Ms. Grinage and the club’s local politics director, Pamela Drake, have been strong advocates of the proposal. The panel will begin at 7:30 at Humanist Hall, 370 27th Street. And I sincerely apologize for the extremely short notice.

Anyway, here’s the basics of the civilianization issue, very briefly. The Mayor’s Task Force on Police Issues and the Citizen’s Police Review Board both want the City to move forward with a program that would change the intake process for civilian complaints against the police. This would be a first step towards an eventual transition towards having all aspects of investigations resulting from civilian complaints against the police be handled by civilians rather than sworn police officers.

Basically, under the proposal, we would hire 10 new staff for the Citizen’s Police Review Board (8 complaint investigators and 2 administrative assistants), which would cost about $1.27 million per year. That’s just the ongoing cost for salaries and benefits for the staff, and does not include expenses related to recruiting and background checks, or whatever new office space the CPRB would need, since that many people can’t fit into their current location. Once these people were all hired, all citizen complaints filed against police officers would be filed through the new intake officers. These people would then perform initial investigation of the complaints to determine the appropriate course of action (mediation, evidentiary hearing). The idea is that people will feel more comfortable reporting their problems with the police to someone other than a police officer.

Due to a number of issues, mostly relating to the NSA, we unfortunately can’t just turn this function over to civilians alone. Instead, CPRB staff would forward the complaints to the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division, who would also have to perform the same work. At some point, this may no longer be required, but the earliest possible date that would happen is July 2010, when the NSA expires, although my understanding is that it is likely the NSA is going to be extended yet again.

Even if we do end up being successful at transitioning all intake functions to the CPRB instead of the police department, Internal Affairs will still be responsible for all non-intake responsibilities related to investigating the complaints. The idea is that we would eventually transition the rest of the investigative tasks out of the Police Department, and this is really just the first step of that, and it is unclear at this point how that would work with NSA compliance requirements.

Of course, none of the details matter all that much right now since we don’t have any money at all to do it. At Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, supporters of the proposal asked the Committee to approve the civilianization plan in concept, on the premise that with the Council’s stamp of approval, supporters of civilianization will be able to pursue outside funding sources (like grants) to cover the costs of implementing the program. The Committee voted 3-1 to do so, with Larry Reid saying that while he supports the idea of civilianizing Internal Affairs functions, he was not willing to endorse the program until we actually had a plan for how the whole thing is going to be accomplished.

Again, that’s just super bare bones, and I will try to have a more extensive post about this issue up next week. And if you’re interested, I definitely encourage checking out the discussion at tonight’s event. And I’ll do my best to answer questions anyone has in the comments, as internet access permits, of course.

6 thoughts on “Civilianizing Internal Affairs

  1. Patrick

    Personally, I think this review board should be:

    1. Privatized. We do not need more corrupt gravy trainers protecting the system.
    2. Contractual with limited duration. “Term limits” if you like. We can offer excellent pay and benefits that terminate after, say, 5 years. It gets too cozy otherwise. I would say that there are about 17% of Oaklanders (currently jobless) that would agree to that. They can be rotated in over a period of 5 years, necessitating only incremental increases in funding.
    3. The employees are not unionized. Ever.
    4. Here’s that buzz word: transparency. There needs to be real-time *available* documentation. I realize there are privacy concerns but that can all be hashed out. We need to know what type of complaints are being made, at least.

    Hats off, V. Only you could describe a detailed 8 paragraph post, with more factual information than most newspapers can muster in an entire edition, as “super bare bones”.

  2. livegreen

    Don’t we need some plan details? How are they going to ensure that Civilian IA have investigative experience, and are neutral (neither pro- nor anti-OPD)?
    What other cities have experiences with this?

  3. len

    i’ve heard diametrically opposite opinions whether sworn staff have to perform the review work. one is that the nsa requires it, and that is the police union demanded it.

    are you saying the former, or are you just saying that under the nsa the (duplicate/same) work has to be done within the police dept, but can be done by civilian employees of the opd?

    btw, rumors of extended nsa is based on statements burris has made or Judge Henderson? is there a line item in the opd budget for nsa compliance?

  4. Helen

    For those of us who missed tonight’s meeting, I hope that someone will post a summary of the discussion. What were the substantive arguments for and against? Thanks -

  5. MarleenLee

    This is an extremely complicated and important topic. I know because as part of my job I conduct lots of investigations (including investigations of police misconduct) and also see how the investigations of other organizations get conducted (e.g. government agencies like EEOC, DFEH etc.). One of my observations is that there are very few people out there who are actually good at conducting investigations and writing good reports. Even police officers aren’t necessarily the greatest. So the plan would need to ensure that the people are really qualified and well trained. There are also union issues (is the civilianization of the IA a negotiable item?) Why would we want to civilianize this function when under the NSA it has to be performed by the police themselves? How do other police departments handle IA complaints? (I know the police departments I work with contract out this function to people like retired police chiefs, and they do a pretty good job). Sorry I can’t make it for the actual discussion. Should be interesting.

  6. Kipper

    “The idea is that people will feel more comfortable reporting their problems with the police to someone other than a police officer.”

    If comfort is the main issue then I’d be interested to know how many complaints the CPRB accepted last year compared to OPD Internal Affairs. You will find, I am sure, that the comparison will show no problem with the community reporting perceived misconduct to an officer, supervisor, or IAD.

    I suspect that for some in the civilian community this transfer of responsibility is nothing but a power grab – not that there is anything wrong with civilian oversight in a free society – but power is always dangerous. Politics and community outrage have no place in police discipline matters, and civilians with such authority are too often guided by these ebbs and flows rather than experience with the law, sound investigation techniques and department policies.