OPD: Worst in the State 

Recent revelations about racism and millions in misspent funds raise questions about whether a federal takeover of Oakland police would be a bad thing.

The Oakland Police Department is the most dysfunctional police agency in California, and it may be the most dysfunctional governmental agency of any kind in the state. For years, OPD has been unable to solve the vast majority of crimes committed in the city as it racked up a deplorable record for police misconduct. But recently, matters have gotten even worse with revelations that OPD appears to have misspent up to $20 million in public funds at a time when some police employees were engaging in racist acts.

The fact that some cops openly embrace and tolerate racism in a diverse, progressive city like Oakland is an outrage. According to the independent court monitors overseeing the department, police employees had defaced photos of US District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who is African American, and Mayor Jean Quan, who is Chinese American, in "a racially offensive manner" and then posted them on a bulletin board at the Oakland Police Administrative Building in downtown. The racist photos remained in place even after one department employee complained about them.

Not surprisingly, the lead independent court monitor, Robert Warshaw, a former police chief from Rochester, New York, also concluded that the department again had made no substantive progress toward achieving the reforms it agreed to implement nearly a decade ago. As such, Judge Henderson may put the department in federal receivership later this year — a move that would be unprecedented nationwide.

As if the racist acts were not enough, City Auditor Courtney Ruby also released a scathing report last week that showed OPD had wasted up to $1.87 million on technology in recent years that either doesn't work or doesn't work well. Moreover, the department can't recoup many of its losses because it bought crappy equipment from fly-by-night companies that have since gone out of business.

But that's not all. News organizations also revealed last week that the department's new $18 million radio system is faulty and plagued by glitches. It has dead zones throughout the city in which officers can't talk to one and other. And news of the malfunctioning radios made national headlines last week because the system went dead during President Barack Obama's visit. Apparently, the department had failed to fully check out the new radio system and properly vet it before spending $18 million on it.

For years, the conventional wisdom in Oakland has been that city leaders should do whatever they can to avoid a federal takeover of OPD. Mayor Quan, in particular, appears to be concerned that a federal takeover would reflect poorly on her — even though the department was badly dysfunctional long before she took office in January 2011. Moreover, her predecessors, Jerry Brown and Ron Dellums, had no more success in reforming the department than she has had.

We're starting to wonder, though, whether federal receivership would be worse than what we have now. The dysfunction within OPD is so pervasive, so ingrained, that it might take the shock and embarrassment of a federal takeover to finally turn the department around.

Bonta's Bills

After a dizzying array of high-profile endorsements for 18th Assembly District candidate Rob Bonta in recent weeks, the campaign of his fellow Democratic opponent Abel Guillen attempted to reverse its fortunes last week with the news of Bonta's $147,000 in unpaid campaign bills. Campaign finance reports revealed that despite out-earning Guillen in fundraising totals during the late spring reporting period in May and June, Bonta had accumulated unpaid bills of more than $70,000 and nearly doubled its total debt over the course of the entire campaign cycle. A majority of the unpaid bills are owed to Bonta's Sacramento-based campaign consultant Duffy & Capitolo.

Bonta, vice mayor of Alameda, raised $69,318 during the period ending June 30, while spending $150,268 and holding $131,439 in cash on hand, according to the reports. Guillen, a Peralta Community Colleges trustee, reported receiving $43,874, with $58,327 in expenditures and $23,605 in cash remaining.

Guillen's campaign was quick to point out its opponent's ballooning unpaid bills. "Rob Bonta earned a gold star for edging out Abel Guillen in the latest fundraising report," said Pat Dennis, a spokesperson for the Guillen campaign, "but he deserves a gold medal for racking up a record-breaking debt of over $147,000 going into the general election, a feat no serious candidate for Assembly has accomplished in recent memory."

Bonta's campaign immediately charged Guillen with misrepresenting the difference between debt and unpaid bills. "Guillen's latest attack is to intentionally and falsely equate Bonta's unpaid primary expenses as of June 30 with actual debt, an obvious and petty attempt to stir up doubt about Bonta," said Mark Capitolo, Bonta's campaign manager.

Capitolo added that Guillen also incurred debt during the primary season. Bonta finished with the most votes in the June primary, with Guillen coming in second in a four-person race. In the state's top-two election format, the two Democrats will face off in the November 6 general election.

Through June 30, Guillen had $32,776 in unpaid bills, including three personal loans to his campaign totaling $13,650, according to the reports. Bonta reported no outstanding loans.

While the existence of Bonta's large list of unpaid bills is notable, a trio of important endorsements received in the past two weeks could blunt it. Last month, Bonta outmaneuvered Guillen in gaining the exclusive endorsement of the state Democratic Party, even though he gained the vote of just a single member of the local 18th Assembly District Central Committee. Democrats, some from Southern California, pushed Bonta over the 60-percent threshold for endorsing state candidates. A few days later, Bonta won the crucial backing of progressive leader and current Assemblyman Sandré Swanson. In addition, last week, Bonta grabbed a share of the California Nurses Association's endorsement. In January, the labor union had given its support solely to Guillen.

The strength of Guillen's campaign going into the primary was perceived to be his backing from the nurses and teachers' unions. CNA upped its contributions to $15,600, with a $7,800 donation in early June. However, with news of the union's split endorsement, that advantage may now be negligible with the election less than one hundred days away.

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