A blistering city audit of the Oakland Police Commission found that the civilian watchdog group has not completed several of its City Charter requirements, lacks organizational structure and suggested it wields too much power in its ability to fire the police chief.
The 66-page audit, which The Chronicle obtained before its official release, comes as council members weigh a new ballot measure that would fortify the commission’s authority.
Commission Chair Regina Jackson fired back at the report’s findings Thursday, saying that auditors relied on misconceptions and glossed over the commission’s achievements and improperly weighed in on the firing of Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick was fired without cause in February in a joint action by police commissioners and Mayor Libby Schaaf. The former top cop has since claimed that she was fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on alleged misconduct by the Police Commission.
“You kind of have to wonder if it’s part of the same kind of scare tactics used of late around the ballot measure discussions,” Jackson said. “I just believe that it is an insult to the professionals (the commissioners) who happen to be experts in their field.”
Jackson said the audit was purportedly to review the commission’s performance from 2017-19, but auditors included a review of an item, Kirkpatrick’s firing, that clearly fell outside that period.
Among the report’s findings, auditors noted that the commission had modified “only” two Police Department policies during its two-year auditing period. The commission also failed to hire an inspector general, did not complete all of its trainings and hadn’t obtained required reports, auditors said.
However, the auditors acknowledged that commissioners faced significant challenges in running a new organization, and the city failed to provide adequate staffing for a part-time body of volunteers.
The Oakland Police Commission was created following the 2016 passage of Measure LL, which received the support of more than 80% of Oakland voters. The citizen body is tasked with overseeing the Police Department’s policies and procedures, and its investigative arm — the Community Police Review Agency — and reviews complaints against officers and recommends discipline.
The audit additionally discussed the commissioners’ authority to remove a police chief. Oakland’s City Charter allows the commission to unilaterally fire a chief for cause, and to remove a chief without cause if acting jointly with the mayor.
Auditors stated that this authority is “rare,” though they noted that police oversight bodies in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Honolulu have similar powers. In these other cities, however, police reported to just the oversight body, whereas the Oakland chief reports to the commissioners, mayor, federal monitor and city administrator.
“Since the City Council is considering modifying the City Charter and Municipal Code, this provides an opportunity for the City Council to re-evaluate the provisions regarding the removal of the Chief of Police,” the report states.
Auditors said the volunteer-run commission has “more requirements than a part-time oversight body can handle.”
In a rebuttal sent to City Auditor Courtney Ruby, Jackson said the auditors included false statements about the commission and omitted information about the commission’s authority under the Charter. She said the audit also falsely suggested Schaaf played no role in the removal of Kirkpatrick, which would be impossible under the Charter.
The report, Jackson said, “fails to credit the Commission’s diligent, collaborative” work on a new policy that restricts police from asking people during stops whether they’re on probation or parole.
Jackson’s rebuttal also notes that auditors completely neglected the commissioners’ yearlong effort to overhaul the Police Department’s use-of-force policies, and “blatantly mischaracterizes” the commission’s authority to remove a police chief.
“The report suggests the Commission’s removal authority is rare amongst police commissions, but then acknowledges that San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu each grant their police commissions exclusive removal authority,” she wrote.
In an interview, Jackson said she was “quite frankly disappointed” in the audit.
“I would have expected more from the auditor, and I expect more of my city,” she said.
Councilman Noel Gallo said he hadn’t seen the audit but preferred to delay the vote on the commission ballot measure until the report was released.
The proposed ballot measure, which was co-authored by City Council President Rebecca Kaplan and Councilman Dan Kalb, would allow commissioners to have their own legal counsel and inspector general, expand the commission’s policymaking authority, and allow the commission to override police on operational decisions.
The Oakland Police Officers Association and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf have both opposed some changes to the commission, saying it would give the oversight body outsize control over law enforcement.
“At a time when Oakland must cut $122 million from our budget, this proposal is certain to add costs to Police Commission operations, as well as could subject the City of Oakland to even more financial liability from law suits,” Schaaf said in a letter to Oakland residents earlier this month.
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