‘Anemic’ response to Oakland police Instagram scandal draws scrutiny (2024)

OAKLAND — Just as it was hoping to finally shed federal oversight of its operation, the Oakland Police Department has been slammed by an investigative report highly critical of its belated response to the revelation that several officers posted racist and misogynist comments in an Instagram account.

Filed last month in federal court by litigation firm Clarence Dyer & Cohen, LLP, the report comes just weeks after U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick made it clear that if he’s going to lift the two-decades-long monitoring, the police department must among other things show through its handling of the social media scandal that broke in January that it has eliminated systemic racism within its ranks.

The investigative report didn’t help the police department’s case.

“OPD’s anemic response to the (Instagram) page bespeaks the need for a culture shift aided by robust anti-discrimination and social media policies,” investigators wrote.

Positive steps taken by the police department in recent years to meet the conditions of a negotiated settlement agreement (NSA) with federal monitors “have been temporarily overshadowed by evidence that some officers remain wedded to hurtful biases and a retrograde vision of policing,” the report said.

Regardless of how the report factors into Orrick’s decision, expected in January, it’s already given some City Council members and watchdogs reason to doubt that much has changed in the police department.

“I do feel concerned that we are not taking this seriously enough in the department and administration,” Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan said at a City Council committee meeting on Tuesday. “It’s not just that people posted these hateful things online. … It reveals a core problem that we have not addressed.”

Assistant Chief of Police Darren Allison told committee members the department intends to implement the investigative report’s suggested reforms and tried to assure them the solution to underlying racism and misogyny lies in strong recruiting.

“It all starts with recruiting individuals who have shared values with the organization,” Allison said.

The negotiated settlement agreement stems from a civil rights lawsuit filed against the city in the fall of 2000 alleging that a group of Oakland police officers known as “The Riders” beat Black residents, planted drugs on them and falsified records. The agreement requires the department to report its progress in achieving 52 reform measures to an outside monitor and Orrick.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys, John Burris and Jim Chanin, last month urged Orrick to end the oversight after saying the police department appeared to have made big strides in reforming itself.

But this week, Burris said the investigative report has given him pause.

“The revelations were pretty stunning. Unfortunately, it caused us to rethink our positions or at least think that more work has to be done before we could move into recommending that the NSA be terminated,” Burris said. “Part of the whole case was about changing the culture of the department — making it more inviting, with less disparities. This whole Instagram thing is sort of a dagger into that thinking of the culture.”

The city revealed some findings of the Clarence Dyer & Cohen investigation in September when it announced that seven current Oakland police officers had been disciplined over the Instagram account or for violating department online policies in other ways. Two other officers who were involved have since left for other police departments, and one was fired. The fired officer started the Instagram account after he left, according to the report.

The investigators discovered that a lieutenant learned of the Instagram account in September 2020 and notified the department’s Intelligence Unit. But police officials at the time thought the account, which invited other officers to follow the page, could be an “Antifa or BLM-type trap” or an effort by the activists to “infiltrate” their department, investigators wrote.

As a result, intelligence officers monitored the account for several months and didn’t initiate an active investigation until January, when a local reporter began asking questions and an attorney called interim police chief Susan Manheimer about it and showed her images from the report.

Once she saw them, Manheimer “immediately recognized that the images were objectionable and that a full investigation should be conducted,” the investigators wrote.

The Instagram account “@crimereductionteam” — named after a specific Oakland Police Department entity — posted multiple memes and captions that were sexist or racist and mocked efforts to curb police brutality.

A caption for one meme began, “Me: How did you make it into all these assignments? You literally have none of the qualifi–”and continued with a response from “her” that showed an image of a woman pulling her shirt up to expose her breasts. The implication was that a female officer used her body to obtain assignments.

Another meme showed a scene from a p*rnographic film with actress Piper Perri seated on a couch surrounded by five Black men in undershorts and shirts labeled “Internal Affairs,” “Police Commission,” “Command Staff,” “Spineless Cops,” and “Criminals Taking Advantage of the Situation.”

“Putting aside the insubordinate suggestion that ‘good’ cops are under assault from command staff, (Internal Affairs Department), and the Police Commission, the meme clearly draws upon repugnant tropes of Black men as sexual predators of white women,” investigators wrote.

The investigators also discovered that the Instagram account was created by an officer involved in the fatal police shooting of Joshua Pawlik, a homeless man found sleeping with a gun in his hand in March 2018. The report did not identify the officer by name, saying only that the account was created by “an individual who provided an email address that is associated with a recently-terminated OPD officer … the subject of an internal affairs investigation related to an officer-involved shooting in March 2018.”

‘Anemic’ response to Oakland police Instagram scandal draws scrutiny (2024)
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