What does the DA do with cases we give them? Nobody knows.

So, I mentioned on Wednesday that the District Attorney’s office is unwilling to provide information about the outcomes of charged cases to Oakland’s City Council, and by extension, the public.

The first time this came up, at the end of November, the Committee members seemed appropriately shocked. They settled on requesting that staff send a formal request through the City Administrator’s office to the District Attorney Tom Orloff’s office for the information.


So staff did exactly that, and on December 3rd, sent the letter reproduced on pages 9 and 10 of this document (PDF!). Specifically, they asked:

The Public Safety Committee is formally requesting your presence for the next Public Safety Committee meeting regarding this information; it is scheduled for February 26, 2008. In addition, the committee would like to receive the following information:

  • Dispositions on robbery and burglary cases for the calendar years 2005,2006 and 2007
  • Dispositions on robbery and burglary cases involving juveniles for the calendar years 2005, 2006 and 2007
  • Current charging guidelines for robberies and burglaries (residential, commercial, and auto)
  • Current charging guidelines for juveniles convicted of robbery and burglary (residential, commercial, and auto)
  • Current diversion programs available for juveniles and/or alternative programs (i.e. Home Supervision, Electronic Monitoring, Youth Court, Boot Camp, etc.)
  • What are the factors that will mitigate a case?
  • Do you track recidivism rates for either adults or juveniles? If so, can you provide that information?

The item was heard this past Tuesday, March 11, instead of February 26th as noted in the letter. As of February 28th, 2008, the date the staff report on the item was submitted, the City had received no response from the District Attorney’s office.

I expected the Councilmembers to be as outraged as I was about this, so you can imagine my surprise when I watched the meeting, and during discussion of this item, the only reference to the District Attorney’s failure to provide data was:


There was zero follow-up on this point from any of the Councilmembers during the rest of the discussion on the item! Not a single question. No expressions of frustration. No offhand remark. Nothing! I sure hope they’re trying to address the issue privately, because the Council and the public deserve this information.

I can’t help but wonder if the reason for the refusal on the part of Orloff’s office to share the information is that they fear the public would be upset by it. After all, as Novometro reported nearly a year ago, ADA Tom Rogers runs around telling Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils “We try not to put people in jail.”

A transcript of both videos is available here (PDF!).

9 thoughts on “What does the DA do with cases we give them? Nobody knows.

  1. V Smoothe Post author

    Max –

    The answer to your question is simple, but depressing. Basically, nobody cares. Tom Orloff ran unopposed for District Attorney’s office in 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006, getting 99.1% of the vote in the last election, despite his failure to obtain convictions against Jason Cazares for the brutal murder of transgendered teenager Gwen Araujo or the Oakland riders.

  2. len raphael

    v, all i know from tom rodgers is from a temescal ncpc meeting and a long conversation i had w him afternwards. that was about 5 months ago. yes he said something like the novometro quote, but most of what he said was a plea for community support for tougher sentencing and more court resources. exactly the opposite of what the quote implies. he didn’t know me and had no reason to blow smoke..

    he came right out and said that his office gives the residents what they ask for: in hayward, san leandro they want tough sentencing, in berkeley and oakland they want lenient. he said it was better to give at least a minimum sentence to first time offenders than none, for the deterent effect.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Len –

    Rogers gave the same reason for light sentencing at the meeting referenced in the story. If the office feels that this is the will of the community, then one would assume they would not be reluctant to reveal the disposition of cases to the public.

    I hope it was clear in the post that my suggestion of that particular motive was purely speculation. I haven’t the faintest idea why the District Attorney won’t answer the Council’s Public Safety Committee when asked to provide information, but whatever the reason is, I find it exceedingly disturbing.

  4. len raphael

    interesting that you assume losing the riders case was the DA’s fault. i think the truth was somewhere between John Burris’ profitable fantasy and the Duke lacrosse players’ situation.

    unlike the City of Oakland, insurance companies don’t pay out
    1.xMill to ex oakland cops unless their insured, Oakland, had an
    extremely weak set of facts against an oakland cop who doesn’t have the
    deep pockets and inhouse legal staff of city, insurance companies,
    or a class action law firm to file lawsuits. ask local criminal attorneys around here and they’ll tell you never put an OPD on the stand or the local jury will decide against you.
    That should tell you the city had no case against that rider.

    The screw up was compounded by the taking18 to 20 experienced cops off the streets
    to sit at desks in Internal Affairs until 2010. Chief Tucker perpetuated those blunders by refusing to replacing the 18/20 uniformed cops in Internal Affairs with civilians.

    Tucker will tell you that using cops was an OPD decision not Thelton’s, because it’s too costly to train civilians to do that job. I’m not convinced.

    The other and probably more pernicious continuing effect of the NSA was to chill agressive policing. Stop a cop at random on the street and ask them about how the NSA affected them. They will chuckle and then tell you that they know if they stop anyone in East or West Oakland there is a high chance they will spend hours filling out responses to a clampaint and have to spend a day answering questions from IA. They’ll even tell you about people in Upper Montclair who repeatedly call in to complain that cops were peeping thru their windows etc. Every complaint get documented and followed up.

    I say this even after a young latino friend told me how he and his 4 buds were made to stand handcuffed 2 hours in the sun one summer by one of the riders without arresting them. my friend said yes they had been drinking and driving, yes he talked a lot shit to the cop, but it was wrong to be treated that way by any cop for any reason.

    But to your main point, yes it’s disgusting that our council doesn’t care whether they care that info from the DA. But that’s because like Dellums, our psychiatric social worker turned pol, each of them except maybe DlF, beleives that arresting and prosecuting criminals is a waste of money better spent on programs like Youth Uprising.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Len –

    I’ll admit to assuming, based on what I’d read, that the Riders were guilty as sin. I’ll also admit to not delving enough about the specifics of the case to be in a position to make an informed judgment either way. Their guilt or lack thereof wasn’t really my point, so I’m going to avoid commenting on either that or the NSA for the moment.

    What I was mostly trying to get at is that in more, shall we say, engaged cities, losing high-profile cases will almost always generate some kind of political fallout for the District Attorney. Whether it was his fault or not, you’d think that consecutive defeats in the Riders would have prompted someone to attempt a challenge. Big losses won’t always (or even most of the time) lead to a DA losing their seat, but usually ensure some kind of negative press coverage. I never see anything in the news about the DA’s office. The only critical item I can recall reading of the top of my head ran in the Express nearly three years ago.

    Many of the people I talk to who are politically active don’t even know who Orloff is when I say his name. I don’t get it. People in Oakland are so upset about crime, and eager to condemn OPD and the Council, but never seem to think about the District Attorney. Maybe it’s because Alameda County is so big – people in Fremont don’t know or care what’s happening in Oakland and vice versa, so a countywide office can slip under the radar? I don’t know. Whatever the reason, it bothers me.

  6. len raphael

    Geography, partly. Alameda county is a far flung mini state. eg most people in Oakland think that Dublin, Plesasanton and Livermore are in Nevada :)

    History mostly continues to influence people here (maybe not to the extent it does in much of the rest of the world) and attracts like minded younger people to the area years later.

    Anti Vietnam War counterculture and birthplace of Black Panthers, strong civil rights supporters Berkeley Oakland ambivalence toward law enforcement and judicial system. Gay and lesbian rights never particularly high up on law enforcement priorities.

    eg. until I attended that NCP meeting w Rodgers, it never occurred to me that the DA’s decisions to prosecute would be influenced by the preferences of the various electorate groupings. Somehow i assumed they applied the laws best they could or couldn’t but were mostly limited by vastly overcrowded jails and insufficient oakland cops who didnt want the IA hassle of frisking and arresting etc., didn’t have the staff to deal w anything except major felonies.

    heck it bothers me that i’m trying to get voters to support, increase the number, and manage the cops more efficiently, but it bothers me a lot that we’re jailing so many afa men in prisons with no end in sight. i can justify it as triage to slow the bleeding of the body politic, but i don’t have to like it.

  7. Joanna

    Whether or not Oakland is pro lenient sentencing, I’d like to know how many cases were brought to the DA and never followed up on. Why was Council so upset at the last meeting and not so much at this? Is there something being smothered behind the scenes?

    Like you I don’t know enough about the Riders case to know whether Orloff did a good or bad job. I do know that the perception (which is reality for most Oaklander’s) is that Orloff screwed up. Why, if the City had such a bad case, did they go to trial??

    If Tom Rogers shows up at my local NCPC meeting to tell me that he “tries not to put people in jail”, I’m going to ask him what incentive OPD has to put their necks on the line to catch the really bad guys. Would you want to risk your life so that a criminal you caught would later go free? Seems like that may be another cause for bad moral in OPD. And honestly, if you’re a bad guy (or gal), and you know this city is lenient on crime, then you have less incentive to be good. Ironically, I’m not so much for continuing to fill the jails & prisons up, but since we’re not spending more on education and prevention, filling jails and prisons are the result.