Oakland Police Chief Announces Retirement
Listen to the audio:
A seismic shakeup today at the Oakland Police Department.
Police Chief Howard Jordan issued a statement saying that, for medical reasons, he's retiring from the OPD after 24 years of service.
STEPHANIE MARTIN, HOST: We're joined by Golden Gate University Law School Dean Emeritus Peter Keane, a former member of the San Francisco Police Commission.
Mr. Keane, Chief Jordan, who's just 47 years old, didn't really say what his medical issues are. But back in March, when former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier was brought in to oversee department compliance issues, you said that you suspected that Jordan would be seeking "greener pastures" right about now. So, I take it this announcement to you not might not be a surprise?
PETER KEANE: It's not at all a surprise. Chief Jordan has been in an absolutely untenable position now for some period of time. Under the consent decree in the federal courts, which is overseen by Judge Thelton Henderson -- the federal court has been threatening almost a year now to put the Oakland Police Department under federal receivership because it's not complying with a number of the agreements that were made in the consent decree with the City of Oakland. And Thomas Frazier, who was appointed as the compliance officer by Judge Henderson, has in effect, been the power behind the Oakland Police Department since his appointment. He has the power to override the chief's decisions; he has the power to fire the chief. So Chief Jordan really has not been chief except in name only ever since the compliance officer was named.
So, he's being pulled in that direction. Now we have coming out today the report by former Los Angeles Police Chief Bratton, which presumably is going to have all sorts of other demands that are going to be made on the Oakland Police Department. In addition to that, you add a third layer in regard to Mayor Jean Quan, who in terms of the chemistry between her and Chief Jordan - as to whether he sees her backing him up - it's not been a great chemistry.
Jordan has been pulled in three separate directions both by the federal court and now by whatever Chief Bratton's report is going to be and by Mayor Quan. So his position has been totally untenable. I'm surprised he's stuck it out this long. It's not any surprise at all that he is leaving. There's nothing really he can do there.
MARTIN: So now we have the interim chief -- the assistant chief, Anthony Toribio -- a 23-year veteran of the department. But with so many cooks in the kitchen, will he or whoever's brought in next really have any power?
KEANE: I don't think that Assistant Chief Toribio is going to be able to make any difference here, particularly since he is not going to be the appointed police chief. He's just going to be some interim person. The main person who's running the OPD is Thomas Frazier -- the compliance officer. The most direct way of doing things would be to just have Thomas Frazier move into the chief's office and run the OPD in name, as well as in effect.
The other thing that might happen is if Judge Henderson sees that this puts the consent decree further back from the progress it has not been making, Judge Henderson can just say, "OK, the OPD is going into federal receivership." He's been threatening that for a year, so he's going to have to either deliver or do something else.
MARTIN: What do you see happening?
KEANE: I see that somewhere there has to be some accord made between Mayor Quan and Thomas Frazier - together as to what is the best direction of the OPD. I think Mayor Quan has hindsight, but a few years ago she should have directly taken on and tried to implement some of those decisions of the consent decree of the federal court.
Until there is some alliance between Mayor Quan and Frazier, the department is just going to flounder around more and more and get itself into further turmoil.
MARTIN: Anthony Batts, the chief before Jordan, only lasted about two years, and Jordan's tenure, if you count his months as interim chief, was just over a year and a half. What does it do to a department's rank and file to keep changing leaders like this?
KEANE: This has a terrible effect on the rank and file - the morale of the department. To have three chiefs within two years and also to have a chief that was seen as not having the backing of the mayor -- that's what was seen during the whole movement of demonstrations a while ago in regard to Chief Jordan not having the mayor's backing. So, I think OPD individual members are going to have a really tough time trying to deal with this. Mainly they're going to be trying to figure out who really runs this place - if anybody - and where is it going?
MARTIN: Who do you think runs the place?
KEANE: Right now nobody runs the place. In effect the power lies in the hands of Thomas Frazier, but he's an officer of the court. He doesn't want to be the day-to-day police chief of Oakland. He may be forced to do that if things just keep spiraling downhill. But it's not a great way to run a police department to have this indirect way of making decisions through a federally appointed compliance officer that then attempts to channel things through both a mayor and a police chief.
MARTIN: So for Oakland residents - just yesterday there was the headline that Oakland had the unfortunate title of "robbery capital of America." You've got cell phones being snatched right out of people's hands, purse snatchings -- criminals basically know they can get away with it. What are they to make of this?
KEANE: The people of Oakland, I think, are going to go into a great deal of further dismay upon hearing this news, because the whole experience of the OPD and the crime situation in Oakland over the course of the last couple years has been very dismal. And what they have been hoping for is some sort of effective movement by the mayor's office and the police department to address some of these major crime concerns. This is something that goes just in the opposite direction, and throws the whole department into disarray, and throws the ability of the city and the department to engage with these criminal problems.
MARTIN: Could there be an upside to this? The fact that they - more or less what it looks like - given up on people from within the department to solve the department's problems.
KEANE: Every cloud has a silver lining. Maybe if someone can be brought in from the outside who is a very effective administrator and is given the full power to address the problems, that could have some potential for progress. The problem there is: Any really good police chief candidate around the country who might be looking around for a job who would look at Oakland - take a look at what the situation is there now, saying, "I'm going to come in, and I'm going to be working for someone who could fire me tomorrow whose been appointed by a federal judge, and any decision I make could be unraveled by that person... I don't think so."
I don't think that this is going to be a situation that's going to draw many people of quality, because it's such an unenviable type - no-win stuation.