OAKLAND — Boarded up storefronts, corner liquor stores and rundown houses dominate west Oakland, where a gung-ho band of police officers known as “the Riders” were taken off the streets two years ago.
Residents of the area say crime is as bad as ever since the police corruption scandal broke, derailing scores of prosecutions and leading to more than a dozen civil rights suits against the city.
“There’s so much poverty, so many drugs. There’s an enormous problem to solve,” said Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, who has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years. “We’ve seen the same guys dealing drugs on the same corners for years.”
Drug crimes dominated the shifts of Clarence “Chuck” Mabanag, Jude Siapno and Matthew Hornung, who allegedly beat suspects, filed false police reports and obstructed justice. All were fired; their trial begins on Tuesday. A fourth officer and the alleged ringleader, Frank Vazquez, is believed to have fled to Mexico.
The four were turned in by Keith Batt, a rookie officer who told superiors he was shocked by their “stop and grab” tactics — randomly accosting suspects, handcuffing them and throwing them in patrol cars before questioning them.
Batt, who left the department after speaking up, said “The Riders” routinely beat suspects and concocted police reports. Suspects alleged they planted drugs on innocent people.
In response to the scandal, the Oakland Police Department set up a number of protections to ensure such aggressive tactics won’t happen again.
Residents and business owners say officers are being more careful.
“Officers have been more circumspect in the way they deal with non-crime events,” said Bob Tuck, owner of Atlas Heating and Air Conditioning Co., which has been based in west Oakland since 1916. “There’s not as much confrontation in those situations, but when there’s a crime happening they’re just as on top of it as they’ve always been.”
Joshua Richardson, who claims one of the accused officers beat him up and left him near a freeway overpass, is among 115 people who have filed 17 civil rights suits against the city.
“People feel freer now,” Richardson said. “Not a lot of people are saying they’re scared of the police.”
Ellen Parkinson, who started the Oak Center Neighborhood Association in 1963, said “they’re very sensitive, more sensitive than they were.”