Originally published on Oakland North
Nearly two months after the first major confrontation between police and Occupy Oakland protesters, when downtown Oakland was blanketed with tear gas, city officials have commissioned an independent team of law enforcement experts to investigate how police handled their interactions with protesters.
The four-person team of ex-law enforcement insiders from major cities across the country will be tasked with reviewing police procedures and media documentation of the events, like videos, as well as conducting interviews with officers involved, in order to determine whether any malfeasance occurred. The team will scrutinize several aspects of police conduct, including mass arrest procedures, adherence to Oakland Police Department procedures, and the department’s policies on use of force.
“We take use of force very seriously,” said Oakland Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan during a press conference Wednesday morning announcing the review. “All instances of force are being thoroughly investigated.”
The investigation will be headed by Thomas C. Frazier, former Police Commissioner for the Baltimore Police Department and former executive director of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association.
Frazier is president of Frazier Group LLC, a Maryland-based consulting group that advises both public and private sector customers on a range of topics including executive searches, homeland security and tactical simulations. Frazier was also the past president of the board of directors of the Police Executive Research Forum, a non-profit that facilitated a conference call with police departments from numerous cities so they could “compare notes” on Occupy back in November, according to its website.
Frazier recruited three others to his investigative team: Donald K. Anders, former deputy chief of the San Jose Police Department; Michael R. Hillman, former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department; and Captain Richard L. Cashdollar of the United States Coast Guard. All members of the team have deep roots in command and police tactics.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Frazier said the investigation, which could take up to 90 days, would delve into policy and procedures, particularly how mutual aid among law enforcement agencies was used. Most cities have mutual aid agreements, which allow officers from different agencies to assist in situations where a local police force is overwhelmed.He said that by the end of the investigation, his team may make recommendations to the city, including possibly recommending disciplinary action against officers.
But establishing accountability about what happened is priority number 1, he said. “We have a terrific team,” Frazier said. “We are all experienced in this kind of work.”
Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana said at the press conference that this will be a “multi-phased” investigation, looking first at the events of October 25, which was the date of the first Occupy Oakland camp eviction, and then at the events that transpired after the general strike on November 2. There is a budget of $100,000 for the investigation, she said. Santana went on to say that the OPD has “nothing to hide and is eager to learn.”
When the Occupy Oakland camp was first cleared on the morning of October 25, thousands of protesters took to the streets later that day, effectively shutting down the downtown area during the evening. It was there when officers employed tear gas and used less-than-lethal projectiles to disperse protesters many times throughout the night. These tactics provoked criticism from national media personalities, and fed calls for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan to resign.
During that same confrontation, Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran with Veterans for Peace, was injured in the head, and images of his wounded body being dragged off and of officers tossing a gas grenade into a crowd of people helping him made him into a symbol of the Occupy protest.
It’s not clear to what extent law enforcement agencies outside of Oakland will be involved in the investigation. While at least 17 law enforcement agencies offered mutual aid to the OPD during protest incidents over the past two months, investigators with the review team will need permission from those agencies to interview officers involved, said Frazier.
Already, city officials said, an internal review has been conducted within the OPD, which is the department’s procedure when force is used. This review involved disciplinary action. However, officials at the press conference wouldn’t elaborate on the details, calling it a “personnel issue.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Quan praised the creation of the investigative team at the press conference, saying the city has been “waiting for this for quite a while.”
It’s been a tough few weeks for the city, as there have been dozens of incidents involving police and protesters, Quan said, and while most were peaceful, she continued, there were exceptions that she hopes the investigation will rectify. To date, city actions involving Occupy Oakland have cost at least $5 million, according to a talk Quan gave at the Commonwealth Club forum last week.
“It’s my responsibility to ensure there is constitutional policing,” Quan said on Wednesday. “We hope this will add transparency.”