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Oakland Police Chief Resigns, City Focuses on Law Enforcement Problems

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday January 28, 2009 - 07:21:00 PM

After spending the last two weeks dealing with the sometimes violent aftermath of the Fruitvale BART station shooting death of a Hayward man by a BART police officer, Oakland turned its attention to its own law enforcement problems this week with the suddenly embattled chief of police announcing his retirement, two prominent civil rights attorneys threatening to initiate contempt of court charges against the city because of failure to fully implement a court-imposed police settlement agreement, and Mayor Ron Dellums calling for a 10 percent reduction in crime over the next year. 

At a hastily-called 9 a.m. City Hall press conference Tuesday morning attended by Dellums, Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker announced his resignation effective Feb. 28. 

The announcement came only hours before four city councilmembers—City Council President Jane Brunner, council Public Safety Chair Larry Reid, and Desley Brooks and Pat Kernighan—had planned to push for a no-confidence vote on Tucker. 

Tucker was hired in 2005 out of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department by former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. 

The Oakland Police Department has been under an escalating series of public scandals in recent months, including charges of a botched investigation into the 2007 murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey and a warrant-fabrication debacle that recently led to the firing of 11 Oakland police officers.  

The final political blow against Tucker, however, came when it was revealed that the officer he picked as head of the department’s Internal Affairs Division last year—Capt. Edward Poulson—had been determined by OPD investigators several years ago to have himself interfered in an Internal Affairs investigation into an incident in which Poulson allegedly beat an arrestee who later died from the injuries after being released from custody. 

At his Tuesday morning press conference, a defiant Tucker took aim at the City Council, charging that the council had only paid “lip service” to requests for financial support for the police department. 

It had been widely speculated that Dellums would make announcements about major city staff firings and hirings at his State of the City address, which took place the evening before Tucker’s resignation press conference. Two weeks ago, in releasing the city reorganization plan authored by former Oakland City Administrator Robert Bobb, Dellums had said that he would make those announcements during the week of Jan. 26.  

Former Dellums Budget Director Dan Lindheim has been serving in an interim capacity as city administrator following the firing of former administrator Deborah Edgerly last year. Lindheim has been thought to be one of the persons being considered by Dellums for the permanent city administrator position, as well as Bobb, but Bobb took himself out of the running this week with the announcement that he is accepting a management position with the Detroit schools. 

Dellums made no mention of hiring decisions in his State of the City speech, instead spending much of his time on public safety issues. The mayor called for full implementation of the police settlement agreement growing out of the 2003 federal Allen v. City of Oakland lawsuit (the so-called “Riders” lawsuit), asking that the city attorney explore the legality of the appointment of a citizen commission to review and speed up the police reforms called for in the agreement.  

Dellums also called on citizens and city officials to “come to an agreement” on reorganization of the city’s Community Police Review Board so a better police monitoring system can be put in place, and spent several minutes speaking on the violence plaguing Oakland’s streets. 

“We rallied to bring peace in the world—we need to rally to bring peace in our community,” Dellums said. “Our community is teetering on the brink,” he said and then, referring to the recent nights of vandalism and violence following the Oscar Grant shooting death, added that “we’ve already seen an explosion.” 

It was at this point that Dellums called for the city to rally to effect a 10 percent decrease in Oakland crime over the next year. 

Dellums was interrupted twice during his speech over public safety issues, once by what appeared to be an organized group of hecklers saying that Oakland was living in a “police state,” and again by another man who said that many Oakland citizens were “afraid of the police.” 

Meanwhile, the two attorneys who brought the Allen v. Oakland lawsuit are threatening to take the city back to court if the police reforms called for in the settlement agreement are not implemented. 

That agreement is scheduled to end in January 2010, but attorneys Jim Chanin and John Burris told a Tuesday afternoon East Oakland press conference that they have little faith that the extensive reforms will be implemented at that time, and will be seeking a voluntary agreement with the City of Oakland to extend the time. Otherwise, the two civil rights attorneys said, they will ask U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson—who is overseeing the agreement—to order an extension. 

Burris said that the Poulson revelations—which are the subject of an FBI investigation following complaints to the FBI about the 2000 beating incident by Oakland rank-and-file police officers—shows that “the checks and balances we thought were in place were not working. These are the types of complaints that should have gone through the chain of command and been dealt with.” 

And Chanin said it was clear that the officers went to the FBI with their complaints “only because they were trying to embarrass Chief Tucker. They should have come forward because they were concerned about the violations of a citizen’s civil rights.” 

Burris and Chanin said that implementation of the Allen v. Oakland police reforms had gotten better after Tucker was hired in 2005, with Burris saying that while “Tucker was not entirely successful, he made a good faith effort.”  

Both Burris and Chanin called on the city to implement a nationwide search to replace the chief, calling on the city to “not appoint any existing command staff to the permanent position of chief of police.”