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ACLU to OPD: No Seriously, Hand Over the Info
November 7, 2011
By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney
The Oakland Police Department oversaw the use of excessive force against Occupy Oakland demonstrators, and now the department is refusing to hand over information about what really happened.
The ACLU of Northern California and the National Lawyers' Guild sent a public records request about OPD's use of force on the night of October 25, 2011 on demonstrators supporting Occupy Oakland. The response we received is both infuriating and misguided.
OPD's Chief of Staff prefaced the Department's response to us with this: "The Oakland Police Department understands that the greater and more unfettered the public official's power, the greater the public's interest in monitoring the governmental action. We recognize and acknowledge your October 26th, 2011 request furthers our commitment to this obligation."
Then the email went on to say that OPD was refusing to provide almost all the information that we had requested.
Not only is this a complete contradiction, it also reveals something very troubling. Police officers actually do not have "unfettered" discretion in using force against political protesters. It's constrained by, among other things, the constitutional prohibition against excessive force and OPD's own Crowd Control Policy, which as we've previously noted, was repeatedly breached that night.
Juxtaposed against OPD's decision to withhold reports documenting its use of force that night – a decision we think misguided as a matter of law and policy (see our letter back to OPD today) – OPD's response underscores the gap between its policy and practice. The agency has a great Crowd Control Policy, but doesn't abide by it. The agency celebrates its "commitment" to "the public's interest in monitoring … governmental action," but withholds essential documents. It's time for OPD to close the gap and live up to its word. Given the seriousness of what happened on October 25, 2011, the public has a right to full disclosure. And while we're on this topic, OPD should really start following its own policies. That will help prevent messes like this.