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Federal Judge Eases Oakland Police Crowd Control Restrictions

Thomas Hawk under CC By-NC 2.0
Oakland Police officers in tactical gear during protests in 2009.


In July, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Spero banned Oakland Police from using so-called “less-lethal” weapons, including rubber bullets, and severely limited the use of pepper-spray. This came after the Police controversially used these tactics on protesters in May and early June. The court also ordered that no other law enforcement agencies could bring these banned weapons to Oakland. 


Why would other police officers be in Oakland? Police departments often ask nearby cities to lend them officers to help manage large scale demonstrations, in what are called ‘mutual aid agreements.’ 

In October, with a contested election looming, the City Oakland asked the federal judge to ease these restrictions, after multiple local law enforcement departments said they would refuse to help the city if they couldn’t use these weapons.

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, for example, wrote to OPD and explained that he would not provide assistance because without these weapons, he feels his deputies risk injury. Several Bay Area municipalities expressed similar reservations. 

On Saturday, with the election just around the corner, Judge Spero agreed to ease the restrictions for outside officers in certain cases.

In his decision he wrote, “If OPD does not have an adequate number of officers for any upcoming election-related demonstrations, there is a risk not only to the safety of officers, but also to the safety of the general public and of the demonstrators themselves.”

Protests are planned for downtown Oakland on Wednesday at noon and into the evening.


Annelise was born and raised in the East Bay and has a background in oral history and urban studies. For the last four and half years, she's worked as a criminal defense investigator at a public defenders office in the Bronx, New York and at an appellate defenders office in the Bay Area. As an investigator, she frequently interviews people involved in different parts of the criminal punishment system. Through her work, she has become passionate about the power of personal narratives and compelling stories to increase cross-cultural understanding and initate change.