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"Swap Talk" on Federal Oversight of Police Reforms: Do They Work?

NEW YORK CITY - AUGUST 14 2014: Thousands of New Yorkers responded to Anonymous's call for a Day of Rage march & rally to demand justice for the police-related deaths of Michael Brown & Eric Garner. (Shutterstock.com)

WCPN's and KQED's "Swap Talk" on the so-called "black and blue" divide between police and communities of color, in Cleveland, Oakland and elsewhere in the United States, prompted a vigorous discussion into the effectiveness of federal reform efforts and whether police departments themselves can make such changes without them. 

Our conversation featured attorney Jim Chanin, one of the attorneys who sued Oakland and got its police department to agree to federal oversight of police reforms in the 2002 "Riders" police brutality scandal; Mark Hoy, a white police officer in suburban Cuyahoga County Oakland who has a 15-year career in law enforcement; and Kareem Henton, an African American organizer and activist who founded Black Lives Matter Cleveland. 

In Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson invited the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Cleveland's police force following the 2012  police chase that resulted in the deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell in a hail of 137 bullets.  The DOJ's scathing review was released just days after the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Years later, these cases are still making news.  The officers in Rice's shooting were recently disciplined, but not for killing the boy, and an arbitrator upheld the termination of Officer Michael Brelo in the "137 shots" case, but ordered the reinstatement of five others.

Amy Eddings

Amy Eddings, WCPN's host of NPR's "Morning Edition," and Michael Krasny, host of the current affairs talk show, "Forum," on KQED - San Francisco, teamed up for the  "Swap Talk" with an eye toward bridging the gaps in the way whites and blacks have viewed police/community relations that were exposed during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Michael Krasny

Oakland's police department has been under a settlement agreement that was reached with plaintiffs in 2003 in the wake of the so-called Riders scandal, in which four police officers were found to be planting evidence and beating people in West Oakland.  Changes there have been slow.  In 2012, a federal judge stepped in,appointing a "compliance director" with sweeping powers to mandate reforms.   

Such foot-dragging on the part of Oakland, and a recent report from Cleveland's monitoring team detailing the slow pace of some reforms, raises the question whether top-down, federal oversight is the way to improve a local police force's interactions with African-American and Latino communities.

We invited listeners from these two very different parts of the country whether they agree with President Trump that there's a "dangerous, anti-police atmosphere in America," and whether federal oversight through consent decrees, like the one Cleveland's currently under, are part of the solution or a part of the problem. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that U.S Department of Justice oversight "can reduce morale" among police officers and often leads to increased crime in those communities. 

Julie from Cleveland wrote: " As a white person, I meet a police officer once every 20 years, and it's easy to be polite. I don't fear for my life, no hassle."

Nick from Cleveland wrote: "How can police improve their relationship with communities of color… Stop shooting them would be a good start."

Steve from San Francisco wrote: When will everyone agree that the elephant in the room is money? Officers are human and subject to exhaustion. Departments must be staffed to eliminate routine forced overtime. ... We deserve the policing we are willing to pay for."

We invite you to listen to "Swap Talk" and add your thoughts and comments to the conversation.


Read a copy of the 2014 Executive Summary of the consent decree between Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice here.  

Read a copy of the 2014 Findings Letter to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson from the U.S. Department of Justice here.

Read a copy of the 2008 revised Settlement Agreement Re: Pattern and Practice Claims in Delphine Allen, et al., v. City of Oakland, the so-called "Riders" case, here.

Read a copy of the latest report from the Independent Monitor for the Oakland Police Department, May 19, 2017, here.  

Federal judge says Cleveland's police reform agreement with Justice Department is not 'anti-police,' Cleveland.com, June 14, 2017.

Cleveland police reform struggles to keep pace after two years, Cleveland.com, June 13, 2017.

Civil rights groups alarmed at Justice Department's review of local police settlements, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2017.

Sweeping federal review could affect consent decrees nationwide, The New York Times, April 3, 2017.

Sessions indicates Justice Department will stop monitoring troubled police agencies, The New York Times, Feb. 28, 2017.

DOJ report: How San Francisco police can restore trust, The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 13, 2016.

Justice Department wants sweeping changes in Cleveland Police Department; report finds "systemic deficiencies,"Cleveland.com, Dec. 5, 2014

Federal judge takes control of Oakland's police reform efforts, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 14, 2012. 

Oakland police caught between reform and crime surge, The New York Times, April 19, 2012.

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