ACLU of Northern CA Urges Oakland Mayor To Fill Empty Seats on Citizens' Police Review Board

February 28, 2002 12:00 am

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OAKLAND, CA–The ACLU of Northern California and other concerned individuals and organizations today sent an open letter to Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown urging him to fill the empty seats on the city’s Citizens’ Police Review Board.

As a result of term expirations and resignations, only four Oakland community members have been appointed to the nine-member board, preventing the board from even holding a meeting, hearing cases or making policy recommendations. In fact, a meeting scheduled for today was canceled for lack of a quorum.

“The so-called Rider’s police scandal in Oakland uncovered more than a hundred cases of police abuse, including police beatings, planting evidence, and harassing innocent members of the community,” said Mark Schlosberg, Director of Police Practices Policy for the ACLU of Northern California. “That is why it is critical that Mayor Brown appoint board members as soon as possible. It is his mayoral obligation to the people of Oakland.”

The open letter, signed by several local community groups and a member of the citizens’ review board, stressed the importance of a functioning civilian review board because “effective civilian review of the police is necessary to ensure a vigorous, impartial, and thorough investigation of police complaints.”

In addition, it would renew the confidence of a community shaken by several highly publicized police scandals.

The letter also exhorts Mayor Brown to select diverse and talented candidates who demonstrate a commitment to the mission of the review board in order to improve the board and to rid it of the current membership problems.

“A new board filled with dedicated members that represent the rich diversity of Oakland could improve the city’s civilian review system of police complaints and improve the Oakland Police Department and community relations,” said Maggie Aragon of People United for a Better Oakland.

The letter follows:

February 28, 2002

The Honorable Jerry Brown

One Frank Ogawa Plaza
3rd Floor
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Mayor Brown,

Over the past year, the problems in the Oakland Police Department have been well publicized and documented. The so-called Rider’s scandal uncovered over a hundred cases of officers beating, planting evidence, and harassing innocent members of the Oakland community. A former officer of the year has been accused of stealing money during drug raids and lying on police reports. Data from traffic stops indicate that African Americans are three times as likely to be searched following a traffic stop than whites. Despite all of this evidence, the Citizen’s Police Review Board (“”CPRB””) – the governmental body charged with hearing citizen complaints about police misconduct – remains unable to meet because there are currently only four appointed members. In fact the meeting today has been cancelled for lack of a quorum. The ACLU and the other individuals and organizations listed below therefore call on you to fill the remaining seats with well-qualified candidates immediately so that the Board can function.

The CPRB is made up of nine members from the Oakland community. With only four members currently appointed, the Board cannot even hold a meeting, let alone hear cases or make policy recommendations. The vacancies on the Board should come as no surprise to you, as three are the result of terms that expired. Despite this notice, all but one of those seats remains unfilled (with that one member being appointed at Tuesday’s City Council Meeting). It is the Mayor’s responsibility to appoint members to the CPRB. As Mayor, you should find qualified candidates and appoint members to the Board immediately.

The three other vacancies are the result of members resigning between January 24 and February 3 of this year. These members indicated that they did not fully understand the responsibilities that came with serving on the Board. It is therefore equally important that you appoint people who are willing to put in the time and effort to participate fully and effectively on the Board.

Effective civilian review of the police is necessary to ensure a vigorous, impartial, and thorough investigation of police complaints. It complements community policing by providing a formal mechanism for the community to recommend policy changes to the Oakland Police Department (“”Department””). Effective civilian review is especially important now, in the wake of the Rider’s scandal. It decreases the chance of widespread police abuse and causes the department to function better. If done effectively, civilian review can increase the public’s confidence in the Police Department and allay community fears that the Department is functioning apart from the community.

Of course, the CPRB is far from the ideal civilian review mechanism. In fact, the Board typically only hears about one third of the complaints that are filed. Others are dismissed when the one-year statutory timeline lapses prior to cases going before the Board. Additionally, the CPRB only has jurisdiction over excessive force and discrimination complaints leaving uncovered large areas such as improper search, seizure, arrest, stop, or citation. Despite these significant problems, the CPRB has the potential to improve. Last year the Oakland City Council approved a number of changes aimed at improving the CPRB including expanding its jurisdiction and increasing its size.

Despite council’s approving these changes to the Board’s structure, the changes have yet to be implemented. It is disturbing that nearly a year has gone by since the changes were passed and the situation has deteriorated rather than improved. There seems to be a pattern of neglect of civilian review at City Hall. This neglect must end. The people of Oakland deserve better. The changes council approved must be implemented and you must fill the Board with qualified appointees.

The chance to appoint such a large number of members at one time, while urgently needed, does present a great opportunity. The CPRB has an almost entirely new staff with a new manager, new investigators, a new policy analyst, and new administrators. A new Board filled with dedicated members that represent the diversity of Oakland could have the ability to significantly improve the City’s civilian review system and, in turn, the Department.

At this critical time, you have an important decision to make. You are can either choose to allow the CPRB to further atrophy, depriving the citizens of Oakland of meaningful civilian oversight of the police department, or you can act boldly, appointing diverse, qualified, and hard working residents of Oakland to the Board. The people of Oakland deserve more than they have been getting out of their Police Department and the CPRB. We therefore urge you to make the right choice and act quickly in filling all the vacancies on the Board.


Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California
Nicola Wood, Board Member, Oakland Citizen’s Police Review Board
People United for a Better Oakland (Pueblo)
Stanley H. Hall, President and CEO, Bay Area Urban League
Patricia Loya, Executive Director, La Raza Centro Legal – Oakland
Louise Rothman-Riemer, Paul Robeson Chapter, ACLU
Drug Policy Alliance
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