A federal judge on Wednesday approved a plan to have a court-appointed director oversee the embattled Oakland Police Department instead of ordering an unprecedented federal takeover of the agency.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson gave the independent compliance director broad authority over the beleaguered force.
The director will have the power to seek the dismissal of the police chief and his command staff and could overrule major department decisions.
Last week city officials and two lawyers seeking federal receivership of the department agreed to the terms of the plan that stems from a decade-old police brutality lawsuit settlement that resulted in court-ordered reforms of the department.
"The Court is hopeful that the appointment of an independent Compliance Director with significant control over the OPD will succeed where City and OPD leader have failed in helping OPD finally achieve compliance...and, in the process, become more reflective of contemporary standards for professional policing,'' Henderson said in his order Wednesday.
The director will be based in Oakland for one year or until the police department has reached full compliance with the reforms, Henderson wrote.
The director will report directly to the court. Within 60 days of being appointed, the director will have to file a list of issues for the department to resolve, including incidents involving unjustified use of force, racial profiling and bias-based policing.
Henderson threatened to order a federal takeover earlier this year and said he could still do so if he doesn't see acceptable progress. City spokeswoman Karen Boyd said that city officials had just started to review Henderson's order Wednesday afternoon.
Last week, Police Chief Howard Jordan and Mayor Jean Quan agreed that the deal will move the department forward. Attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin, the two lawyers overseeing the settlement and reforms, said the judge's order may finally signal a new beginning for the department.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that the end is in sight,'' Burris said. "I'm pleased that the benchmarks are being included in this order. This will allow for a real-time evaluation on how effective the OPD is in compliance with the agreement, particularly as it relates to officer-involved shootings, racial profiling and the drawing of firearms. I want to make sure those issues are examined more closely.''
The 2003 lawsuit was filed amid claims that several rogue officers beat or framed drug suspects in 2000.
The claims resulted in nearly $11 million in payments to 119 plaintiffs and attorneys. The settlement initially called for the reforms to be completed within five years. But Burris and Chanin said high-ranking city officials have thwarted those efforts, and the lawyers asked the judge in October to place the department under federal control.
A frustrated Henderson said in January that he was "in disbelief'' that the department had failed to adopt the reforms and threatened federal takeover.
A federal monitor appointed to the case repeatedly reported that the department was stalling on completing key tasks, including tracking problem officers and reporting the use of force. However, Jordan and Quan have insisted the department is making progress with the reforms. City attorneys said 10 of 51 assigned tasks were left to complete.
Chanin said he hopes the order will lead to ``a precipitous decline in chaos'' for the department. He noted that since 2002, Oakland has paid out more than $46 million on police related lawsuits and claims more than San Francisco and San Jose, the Bay Area's two most populous cities combined.
"Hopefully the city will see the writing on the wall and no other hard sanctions will be necessary,'' Chanin said.
'' Hopefully they got the message this time and we will see some action instead of arguing and resistance.''