Oakland Police Slapped for Militarized Response to Protesters


The Oakland, California Police Department has been under formal court scrutiny ever since a 2003 settlement in a civil rights lawsuit, and as bad as the organization has been in improving its conduct since then, its performance against Occupy Oakland protesters leaves federal monitors "thoroughly dismayed." That's the short and not-so-sweet version of the latest quarterly report on the troubled police department. Head monitor Robert Warshaw wrote that officers unnecessarily wielded "an overwhelming military-type response" against demonstrators, and fired beanbags at Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, causing him a brain injury.

Reports the San Francisco Chronicle:

Warshaw said Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, who suffered a brain injury during an Occupy protest Oct. 25, had been shot with a beanbag by an Oakland SWAT officer. Several other police agencies were assisting Oakland that night, and it has been unclear who fired the object.

Warshaw said green residue on Olsen's hat matched the dye left by Oakland SWAT team beanbags, and noted that as Olsen lay wounded on the ground, another officer lobbed a tear gas canister into a crowd of people helping him. Neither officer was named in the report.

Videos of some police actions during Occupy protests "are concerning as to the manner in which non-deadly munitions were utilized," wrote Warshaw, a former police chief of Rochester, N.Y., and deputy drug czar under President Bill Clinton.

The City of Oakland put a positive spin on the report, which perhaps reflects what counts as good news in the place where there's no there. Said the city in a press release (PDF):

"OPD has turned the corner, "said Police Chief Howard Jordan, "and our new, more collaborative relationship with the Monitor and plaintiffs' attorneys will soon bear results in compliance findings. My vision is to make Oakland one of the safer major cities in California; achieving compliance with the NSA will enhance this vision."

Perhaps anticipating a little negative fallout from the latest report, Oakland also announced, last week, newer and shinier crowd-control measures (PDF), promising, "[t]he Chief acknowledged how it is the Department's duty to protect public safety, and at the same time balance the free speech rights of individual protestors with the rights of non-protesting residents."

Hey, it's a slow process. Sometmes it takes nine years for things to gel.

While the latest report isn't yet online at the Oakland Website, it should eventually reside here, along with many other fascinating documents about the state of law enforcement in Oakland.

Reason has published, as you might expect, a scary amount of material on the subject of militarized policing.