Concerns over the “routine overturning” of police disciplinary actions by the arbitration system established in the city of Oakland, California in the United States have resulted in the appointment of a special investigator. The investigation will be funded by the city of Oakland itself, which was ordered by the court to deposit $25,000 into an account for the purpose.
Attorney Edward Swanson, an attorney based in San Francisco, was appointed to lead the investigation. He has been granted wide access and authority into every aspect of how Oakland investigates and disciplines its police officers as well as the arbitration process that is invoked when officers appeal these decisions. The arbitration process “routinely” negates disciplinary actions and reduces or eliminates punishments and even terminations.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson was spurred by a recent arbitration ruling that overturned the firing of Oakland Police Officer Robert Roche. Roche threw a tear gas grenade into a group of unarmed protesters and was fired, but the arbitration panel reinstated him.
The City of Oakland’s police department has been the center of a reform effort spanning more than a decade. Judge Henderson has been overseeing this effort, and stated that the nearly inevitable overturning of disciplinary decisions by the arbitration panel was undermining the effort to reform the department.
Swanson may continue his private law practice while heading up the investigation but is precluded from representing any clients suing the city of Oakland while he is actively conducting the investigation.