In today’s interview with KALW’s Holly Kernan, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts spoke positively about the department’s efforts to comply with the “Negotiated Settlement Agreement,” a sweeping reform effort overseen by Federal Judge Thelton Henderson in San Francisco. The Negotiated Settlement Agreement (or NSA for short) has become a core aspect of the Oakland Police Department: since it was implemented in 2003, the NSA has outlasted three chiefs of police and countless officers.
So just what exactly is the NSA?
The court order is the end result of what’s known as the ‘Riders’ scandal, where a group of OPD officers allegedly assaulted, kidnapped, framed, and falsely arrested residents of the West Oakland neighborhood they patrolled. ‘Riders’ is the nickname the officers adopted for themselves. Their actions were revealed in 2000 when a rookie officer, Keith Batt, publicly revealed the behavior he had observed as a trainee assigned to patrol with the Riders. Coincidentally, it was around this time that the Los Angeles Police Department became embroiled in the Ramparts scandal which involved behavior by LAPD officers similar to the conduct attributed to the Riders.
Four officers were eventually indicted on 49 felony charges. Matt Hornung, 33, Clarence “Chuck” Mabanag, 39, and Jude Siapno, 36, were acquitted, while a fourth, Frank Vazquez fled to Mexico and remains on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list.
Although then-Police Chief Richard Word described the Riders’ conduct as “isolated,” scrutiny of OPD did not end with the officers’ acquittals. The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced their own probe into Riders, and attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin filed a civil rights class action suit against Oakland on behalf of 119 plaintiffs. Rather than submit to federal oversight of the department, as LAPD did to settle the Ramparts case, OPD decided to enter into a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs’ attorneys, overseen by Federal Judge Thelton Henderson that would mandate a top-to-bottom overhaul of OPD’s internal policies. The intention of the NSA is to make sure no officer can go off the reservation in the same manner as the Riders purportedly did.
Depending on who you talk to, the Negotiated Settlement Agreement is either a much-needed kick in the pants for the Oakland Police Department to update its policies and practices, or a millstone around OPD’s neck, tying people and resources up in self-perpetuating bureaucracy that limits officers’ abilities to work effectively and keep Oaklanders safe.
What is for certain is that the NSA has dragged on far longer than originally expected. Judge Henderson extended the NSA for two years in 2008 because OPD had not sufficiently completed the agreed reforms. In a hearing this September, Judge Henderson once again admonished OPD for a lack of progress and threatened an extension of court oversight and financial penalties if significant improvements are not made by the next hearing this December.
In today’s interview and past appearances before Judge Henderson, Chief Batts says he is leaning on his command staff and the rank and file to make the NSA part of the department’s culture and dispel a long-lasting impression that the court’s orders are an outside imposition.
The eight areas of core reform are as follows:
- Internal Affairs Investigations: More staffing for the Internal Affairs Division, faster processing of complaints and stricter procedures for reporting of misconduct allegations
- Discipline: Better documentation of complaints, a more accessible process for complaints, and consequences for consistent breaches of procedure.
- Field Supervision: Closer oversight of officers’ actions by their supervisors.
- Management Oversight: Increased reviews of officers’ conduct and performance, improved documentation of police-citizen contacts and use of force incidents.
- Use of Force Reporting: More formal deadlines and tighter requirements on reporting incidents where force of any sort is used by a police officer
- Personnel Information Management: Establishing a “Early Warning” system for officer conduct which identifies potentially problematic behavior.
- Training: Additional professionalism training and higher criteria for selecting Field Training Officers, who are tasked with teaching rookie officers the ropes during their initial period on the job.
- Auditing and Review Systems: Random “integrity tests” designed to ensure officers are following appropriate procedures, and to identify officers engaging in “at-risk” behavor,” the appointment of an independent monitoring team that reports to Judge Henderson, and compliance audits to ensure cooperation with the NSA.
For a more in-depth look at the 51 tasks OPD are required to complete, see the document below.