An independent review of the Oakland Police Department’s handling of a scandal involving an offensive meme account created by a recently fired officer – and the many still active OPD officers who liked and commented on his posts – determined that the department still has a lot to learn.
San Francisco law firm Clarence, Dyer & Cohen LLP recently completed a court-ordered independent review of the OPD’s handling of the situation following the disclosure last fall of an Instagram account named @crimereductionteam. Internally, the firm found, according to its 23-page report, that the department had dragged its feet in dealing with the account and disciplining agents who liked or approved of problematic posts, and its investigation into the situation was “anemic” overall.
The report suggests that the OPD “took far too long to recognize the fanatical and corrosive nature” of the posts on @crimereductionteam, and adds that “there is no satisfactory explanation for this collective failure.”
“At best, this failure signals a lack of process within the department to ensure a safe and non-discriminatory workplace, committed to court-ordered reforms,” the cabinet wrote. “At worst, it speaks to a culture so hostile to women and minorities, and so attached to a discredited model of policing, that it cannot identify discriminatory and anti-reform messages when she sees it.”
The report was submitted to U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, who serves as judicial officers overseeing the Oakland Police Department as part of its nearly 20-year negotiated settlement with the federal government – having been officially identified as a problematic police force in the early 2000s.
The @crimereduction account was first discovered by OPD leaders in September 2020, and a rumor later arose that it was the work of a disgruntled former officer who was fired as a result. of a shooting incident involving an officer. Acting Chief Susan Manheimer was heading the department at the time, and it wasn’t until January of this year – around the time the local Oaklandside blog was reporting on the situation – that she ordered ” the integrity unit ‘of the department to examine the Instagram account.
Prior to that, last September, after a number of officers and high-ranking members of the department were asked to follow @crimereductionteam, an internal email was sent by the intelligence unit informing officers that following certain social media accounts can “look bad on you.”
The account included a number of harmless police work memes that resemble those of other similar social media accounts on the internet, but several of the posts shared directly referred to incidents in Oakland, and a number of between them contained blatantly sexist and racist content, and content that sheds light on excessive uses of force such as those below.
The company that investigated the scandal interviewed 43 people from the OPD during its six-month investigation and said it had met a number of officers who claimed that the memes were not offensive and that anyone who thought anyone ‘they are is too sensitive.
“For these officers, memes were funny, and anyone who took offense just couldn’t take a joke,” the firm noted. “How can we explain this yawning blind spot, especially in the face of recent efforts by the OPD to recognize the prejudices implicit in the police service and train officers to remedy them?”
Problems with the Oakland Police Department may date back to the 20th century, but the infamous Riders scandal of 2003 led to the current negotiated settlement and federal oversight that continues today. The steady stream of departmental scandals over the past decade has led to a comically frequent leadership turnover, and included a pattern of shootings involving officers, as well as a 2016 scandal in which a number of officers d ‘Oakland forced the sex of an underage sex worker known as Celeste Guap, who was also the daughter of a police dispatcher.
As recently as 2019, a report by a federal auditor indicated that the department had “demoted” in its reform efforts under the tenure of former chief Anne Kirkpatrick – who was removed from office by order of the city police commission last year – and that it was “deficient in several ways” on its handling of shootings involving officers and deaths in custody.
As KTVU notes, Judge Orrick previously said federal oversight of the OPD would continue until it “uproots officers who do not respect the people they serve and treat them equally.”
New leader LaRonne Armstrong said last month that he hoped federal oversight would end soon under his tenure. And two local civil rights lawyers, Jim Chanin and John Burris, had also recommended an end to the surveillance.
Chanin tells KTVU he’s “disappointed” – and says it was he who brought the OPD leadership’s attention to the meme account in December. And, he said of the investigation report, “it raises serious questions as to whether the department has really changed and whether it is time to end the negotiated settlement agreement.”
Previously: Oakland Police face possible new scandal involving social media accounts, racist and sexist memes