This article has been updated
Oakland Police Department’s internal communications about the Occupy Oakland movement — which the Guardian obtained through the California Public Records Act — confirm what many protesters already know: plainclothes officers frequent meetings, police monitor Occupy Oakland’s online communications, anarchists are feared, and police use of force that injures protesters, often brutally, is common practice.
The documents include meeting notes and activity logs from Oct. 25, when officers from Oakland and nearby cities infamously tried to dismantle the tents in front of City Hall. In a confrontation lasting more than 24 hours, officers deployed tear gas, rubber bullets, flash bang grenades and pepper bombs, injuring dozens, including Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old veteran who had served two tours in Iraq.
Logs from Nov. 2-3 — during Oakland’s general strike, first port shutdown, and occupation of the Travelers Aid Society building — also detail the use of tear gas and other “less than lethal” weaponry and injuries. In total, the reports on arrests and use of force, as well as complaints filed with the OPD, spanning from Oct. 25, 2011 to Feb. 11, 2012, paint the picture of an agency engaged in something akin to urban warfare against a feared enemy.
“Surveillance teams will consist of undercover officers supervised by a sergeant. They will operate from elevated positions or walk within the crowd and report threat information to the MFF commander via the surveillance team leader,” read an Oct. 24 operations memo. Throughout the day on Oct. 25, officers make note of constantly checking Occupy Oakland’s website, Facebook, Twitter, and Livestream to anticipate protesters actions.
On Nov. 3, officers discuss changing the radio frequency that they were using for communication after protesters discovered it and began livestreaming the channel.
Officers also seem wary of the power of social networking to influence their strategies. Deputy Chief Eric Breshears suggests that the “port is isolated” so police should simply “surround [protesters] and start negotiating.” But the strategy is rejected with this response: “None are truly isolated. Twitter.”
OPD has come under fire in the past for the actions of undercover cops. In 2006, documents released to the ACLU revealed that undercover officers had spied on an and potentially infultrated an anti-war march during a Port blockade protest (police claimed that they had led the protest march, but activists maintain that the march was certainly not led by uncdercover police.) At that protest, police ended up blasting the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets, as well as attacking with wooden pallets and motorcycles; 50 were injured.
Officers sometimes make judgments based on class or political beliefs. In an Oct. 24 briefing, a plainclothes officer, having strolled through the encampment, reports that “the group is diverse, made up of persons including self-proclaimed anarchists, labor unions, long term homeless individuals, special cause supporters and others.”
Oakland police also noted the presence of Occupy SF protesters and groups including California Nurses United.
“We just got info that the San Francisco group is coming here in support of the Oakland folks,” Deputy Chief Jeff Israel reported on Oct. 25. On Nov. 3, he recorded protesters “at Wells Fargo in SF now, 150-300 people. Recruiting Occupy Oakland and Occupy SF.” At another meeting three hours later, Israel reports to a meeting that “Occupy SF is sending support. Might be here already.”
But Oakland cops were less impressed by their San Francisco counterparts. OPD Chief Howard Johnson reportedly said: “SFPD is mad. They wanted to come play with us. Had 19 people. Had them protect our PAB [Police Administration Building]. Problem is, they don’t have gas masks. Couldn’t get close to the action.”
Use of force
Oakland Police have been under fire from critics and targeted with lawsuits by the National Lawyers Guild and ACLU for excessive use of force. The OPD’s self-reported Incident Statistics, as well as complaints from protesters and Oakland residents, help quantify the problem.
The OPD reports 176 uses of police force at Occupy Oakland events, which include Oct. 25, Nov. 2-3, Nov. 14, Nov. 19, Jan. 7, Jan. 14, and Feb. 11. For Jan. 28, a day on which OPD made 408 arrests at an Occupy Oakland protest, UOF statistics are still “to be determined.”
The document describes several types of UOF. On Oct. 25, these included baton (26 uses), chemical agent (21 total uses), non-striking use of baton (19 times), control hold (five), four uses of “weaponless defense technique” and five uses of “weaponless defense technique to vulnerable area.” In four reported instances, police “attempted impact weapon strike but missed.”
On Nov. 2-3, police report 49 total uses of force. These include 15 baton uses, two chemical agent deployments, six uses of “weaponless defense control hold” and eight uses of “weaponless defense technique” with one falling into the category of “to vulnerable area.” OPD also reports one “Intentional strike to head with impact weapon,” and one “strike to head—other than an intentional strike to head with impact weapon.”
On Nov. 14, the second clearing out of the encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza that resulted in 33 arrests, the OPD reported that force was used against only one subject. The subject in question was treated with one “takedown-leg sweep” and three uses of “weaponless defense technique applied to a vulnerable area.”
On Nov. 19, Occupy Oakland engaged in a one-night occupation of a park at 19th and Telegraph, with no arrests for illegal activities but six baton strikes against protesters.
The documents also show that, since Oct. 25, the OPD has received 1,053 complaints for its Occupy crackdowns. These relate to 76 separate cases, some of which received a great deal of complaints. For example, there are 554 registered complaints about the Oct. 25 raid for “various issues, i.e. use of force, tear gas, rubber bullets, and first amendment rights violations.”
Some of the documents describing complaints have been censored; a complaint made by 113 people concerning Oct. 25 has been blacked out, likely due to “ongoing investigation.” Most of the complaints concern police violence, with residents alleging that they were struck with batons, kneed, and knocked to the ground.
Some were brutal. A complaint from Oct. 25 alleges that “Officers found a person alone, beat him, and broke his knee.” Another complainant “alleged that he was not resisting when he was arrested and OPD officers ‘pool cued’ him in the ribs ten times with a baton, kneeled on his back and head, and used ‘joint locks’ on him.”
A complaint from a Jan. 7 march states that “alleged OPD officer pulled a female from her bike causing her to fall and hit her head on the ground.” Another Jan. 7 complaint: “alleged OPD officer kneed [complainant] in the back causing his spine to break.”
There are 88 complaints alleging officer misconduct from the infamous Jan. 28 “move-in day” protest. On that day, several complainants were allegedly struck in the head and face with batons.
The Guardian will continue to analyze OPD documents as they become available to us.