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Federal Oversight of Oakland Police Department Reduced, But Not Over

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- The Oakland Police Department is getting closer to closing a dark chapter for the force with nearly 20 years of federal oversight about to be sharply reduced.

At a Wednesday hearing in Oakland, U.S. District Judge William Orrick said he plans to issue an order outlining the ways the department can prove that it will properly implement court-ordered reforms over the long-term during what he referred to as a one-year "sustainability period."

The federal monitoring stemmed from a scandal involving a group of rogue officers known as "The Riders."

The four policemen were fired in 2002 after a class-action civil rights lawsuit claimed they beat and planted evidence against black men.

The department agreed to 52 reforms to settle the lawsuit, including documentation of use-of-force incidents, investigations into complaints of officer misconduct and eliminating racial disparities within the force.

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said the one area that must still must improved was "discipline disparities" within the department.

Early Wednesday evening, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Armstrong spoke about the latest development. They said the department is on the right road, but admitted it hasn't reached the end of it.

"Today marks a milestone in a continual journey towards Oakland's reforms," said Schaaf. "The changes that have been acknowledged and recognized that OPD has accomplished are significant. And we have much more work to do."

"I am optimistic that we are proving to the public that we have reformed," added Armstrong. "There's more work to do. This is never over."

"The changes that have been acknowledged and recognized that the Oakland Police Department has accomplished are significant and we have much more work to do -- as does the nation in reforming policing, in being more responsive to our communities, in being having a higher standard of professionalism," Schaaf said.

Attorney John Burris, who along with James Chanin, represented the 119 plaintiffs, said in a statement Wednesday that the end of federal oversight "has been along a winding road with many stops and starts."

Burris said he and Chanin stayed on the case for the entire period because "we always believed that this case presented a golden opportunity to change the police culture from top to bottom and create a police force that holds its officers accountable, eliminates disparities both on the street and within the department and above treats the community with respect."

Despite OPD seemingly becoming a model for more progressive policing across the California, a CalMatters analysis of state Department of Justice data earlier this year said OPD sustains complaints against its officers at a higher rate than any other major law enforcement entity, except the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Complaints against OPD are now handled by both the department's internal affairs division and a civilian panel overseeing the department, which some say have contributed to officers leaving the department in higher-than-normal numbers. 

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