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 its posts — has determined that the department still has a lot to learn.
The 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 revelation last fall of an Instagram account named @crimereductionteam. Internally, the firm found, per its 23-page report, the department dragged its feet in addressing the account and disciplining officers who liked or endorsed problematic posts, and its investigation into the situation was "anemic" overall.
The report suggests that the OPD "took much too long to recognize the bigoted 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 an absence of processes within the department to ensure a safe and discrimination-free workplace committed to court-ordered reforms," the firm writes. "At worst, it bespeaks a culture so hostile to women and minorities, and so wedded to a discredited model of policing, that it cannot identify discriminatory and anti-reform messaging when it sees it."
The report was submitted to U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, who serves as the judicial officers overseeing the Oakland Police Department as part of its almost 20-year negotiated settlement with the federal government — having been officially identified as a problematic police force back in the early 2000s.
The @crimereduction account was first discovered by OPD brass back in September 2020, and a rumor came later that it was the work of a disgruntled former officer who had been fired following an officer-involved shooting incident. Interim Chief Susan Manheimer was leading the department at the time, and it was not until January of this year — around the time that local blog Oaklandside was reporting on the situation — that she ordered the department's "integrity unit" to review the Instagram account.
Prior to that, last September, after a number of officers and higher-ranking members of the department were invited to follow @crimereductionteam, an internal email was sent by the intelligence unit advising officers that following certain social media accounts may "reflect poorly on you."
The account included a number of inoffensive memes about police work that resemble those from other similar social media accounts around the internet, but several of the posts shared referred directly to incidents in Oakland, and a number of them contained blatantly sexist and racist content, and content that makes light of excessive uses of force like those below.
The firm reviewing the scandal interviewed 43 people in the OPD during its six-month investigation, and says it encountered a number of officers who claimed that the memes were not offensive and anyone who thinks they are is being too sensitive.
"To these officers, the memes were funny, and anyone who took offense to them just couldn’t take a joke," the firm noted. "How does one account for this gaping blind spot, especially in the face of recent efforts by OPD to acknowledge implicit bias in policing and train officers to address it?"
Problems with the Oakland Police Department arguably go back deep into the 20th Century, but infamous Riders scandal of 2003 led to the current negotiated settlement and federal oversight that continues today. The department's steady stream of scandals in the last decade led to a comically frequent turnover in leadership, and included a pattern of officer-involved shootings, as well as a 2016 scandal in which a number of Oakland officers coerced sex from an underage sex worker known as Celeste Guap, who was also the daughter of a police dispatcher.
As recently as 2019, a federal auditor's report said the department had been "backsliding" in its reform efforts under the tenure of former chief Anne Kirkpatrick — who was removed under order from the city's Police Commission last year — and it was "deficient in several ways" over its handling of officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.
As KTVU notes, Judge Orrick has previously said that the OPD's federal oversight will continue until it "roots out officers who do not respect the people they serve and treat them equally."
Newly installed Chief LaRonne Armstrong was just saying last month that he hoped the federal oversight might conclude soon under his tenure. And two local civil rights attorneys, Jim Chanin and John Burris, had also been recommending that the oversight should end.
Chanin tells KTVU he's "disappointed" — and says he's the one who brought the meme account to the attention of OPD leadership in December. And, he says of the investigative report, "It raises serious questions about whether the department has really changed and if it's time to end the Negotiated Settlement Agreement."