‘Troubling’ frequency of Oakland cops pulling guns……..on African-Americans

Phillip Matier,Andrew Ross, Chronicle Columnist

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Oakland police are often too quick to draw their guns, especially when confronting African American suspects, according to a report by a federal court monitor.

As part of the fallout from the “Riders” scandal, the monitor looked at a random sampling of police reports from the first three months of this year and found 80 incidents in which officers drew their weapons, two of which resulted in fatal shootings.

Although the analysis found that officers had acted appropriately in a majority of the cases, court monitor Robert Warshaw and his team said they were “troubled by the high number of instances” – 28 percent – in which police didn’t have to draw their guns.

“Officers frequently presumed – often, with no basis – that whomever they were contacting was armed,” their report said.

The report also found that in more than three-fourths of the cases in which officers didn’t have to pull their guns, the suspects were African American. Latino suspects were involved in 17 percent of those cases and white suspects in just 3 percent.

The report also cited several instances of “apparent over-response,” when far more cops pulled their weapons than necessary.

In one case, for example, six officers drew their weapons on a suspect’s car in a McDonald’s drive-through line, the report said.

“This poses a safety risk to both police personnel and citizens, particularly if ‘contagious gunfire’ occurs because of an intentional or accidental discharge by one of the officers on the scene,” the report said.

Troubling as the findings are, the monitor said, even more disturbing is the apparent lack of questioning of the officers’ actions by their supervisors and department commanders.

The report does not go into the two fatal police shootings in Oakland during the study period. In one, an officer shot and killed a 19-year-old suspect after he pointed two guns at police at the end of a chase in East Oakland, the department said.

In the other, officers fatally shot a mentally disturbed man dressed in camouflage gear who allegedly pointed a replica assault rifle at them from the porch of a Rockridge area home.

As for the department’s reaction to the monitor’s report?

Police spokeswoman Sgt. Holly Joshi said that the brass would largely reserve comment on the report until they’ve spoken to the judge who ordered it up, but that “generally, the Oakland Police Department remains committed to the reforms” that arose out of the Riders case.

“We are going to be addressing any concerns or criticism through training or other appropriate means,” Joshi said.

In an e-mail to the rank and file, the Oakland Police Officers Association’s president, Dom Arotzarena, said the problem was not so much cops pulling their guns as it was their failure to explain clearly why they had done so.

“By all accounts, the level of violence in Oakland is such that our members must always expect the unexpected, and that means officers may frequently have to unholster their firearm at a moment’s notice,” Arotzarena said.

The report grew out of the Riders case of a few years back, in which several cops were accused of framing innocent people.

John Burris, one of the lawyers who sued the Police Department in the case, said Tuesday that “we know police officers are often in dangerous situations. But not every situation is dangerous, and not every situation justifies pulling out a gun.”

The report is expected to be at the center of a sit-down Thursday between city officials and U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who ordered up the study at the urging of plaintiffs in the Riders case……………..

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