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Oakland Police to deploy new snatch and grab tactics?

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After waves of protest and condemnation in the wake of extensive abuse of protesters, Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan has announced that he is going to tweak OPD's crowd control policies and training procedures for officers.

The OPD tear gas cannister hit on Iraq war veteran and Occupy Oakland demonstrator Scott Olsen was the most notorious case of abuse since Occupy hit the streets last September, but the department — which normally receives about 1,000 misconduct reports per year — has thus far received an additional 1,000 complaints related to its handling of the movement alone.

These measures have generated a substantial volume of negative press, so the Police Chief is changing the rules. Sounds good, right?


The devil's in the details. Instead of putting forth a clear plan and publishing the new guidelines, the department has issued a series of generalities and vague statements. The only thing we know for sure is that the police plan to drop the current guidelines, which had been official crowd control policy for ten years in Oakland.

The ACLU of Northern California and the National Lawyers Guild are concerned that abandonment of the old rules without something tangible to replace them invites yet more abuse. IndyBay reports:

“Even with clear directives in place last fall, OPD dramatically mishandled its response to the Occupy protests,” said ACLU-NC staff attorney Linda Lye. “If OPD eliminates important prohibitions against specific tactics from its Policy and replaces them with vague standards, it will invite a repetition or worse, rather than prevent a recurrence, of what happened last fall.”

“OPD and the Oakland City Attorney have repeatedly acknowledged that OPD is bound by the court approved Crowd Control Policy. It's unclear why the police seem to think they can abandon it now, unless they are simply trying to deflect attention from the fact that OPD’s response to Occupy has violated nearly every aspect of its own Policy,” said NLG lawyer Rachel Lederman, counsel on the prior and current lawsuits against OPD.

Another IndyBay piece suggests that Chief Jordan may use his newfound freedom to deploy US military style "snatch and grab" tactics in place of heavy deployment of chemical weapons and "less than lethals", which make for pretty ugly optics when the scenes are broadcast on the local and national news.

Howard Jordan has suggested that he may send specialized units into the crowd for the purpose of making surgical arrests, rather than use lethal force through the deployment of chemical and less then lethal rounds indiscriminately. However, sending teams of Officers that are known for their relationship to violence into large crowds of people is a clear indication that OPD intends to incite panic and chaos rather than develop better methods for interfacing with large groups of people.

Since the OPD claims to have retrained its officers in advance of the May 1st General Strike, it seems likely that we will soon find out exactly what kind of new rules apply.

UPDATE: @beingtherewith writes that OPD legal counsel has said the police will not deploy new crowd control policies on May Day. 

Sure enough, the Oakland Tribune reports: "Supervising Deputy City Attorney Rocio Fierro wrote that the new measures are "being postponed until after the May Day events."" Whether that statement reflects police actions on the ground remains to be seen. Stay tuned for updates as events unfold tomorrow.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.