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Oakland Police Chief Richard Word testified Thursday that his department was in the midst of an aggressive crackdown on drug crime around the time that four officers who called themselves the “Riders” were first accused of misconduct. But when defense attorney Michael Rains implied that the proactive, aggressive tactics the department ordered were an important part of that campaign, Word stopped him. “That was not all of it,” the police chief interjected. “What was all of it?” Rains asked. “To be proactive on your beat, to talk to people on your beat — but also to treat people with respect,” Word said. The chief’s testimony — which was given in a courtroom packed with reporters, lawyers and students visiting for the court’s annual Law Day — was a defining moment in the trial for the three ex-officers who are charged with 26 felony counts, including assault, kidnapping, falsifying police reports and obstruction of justice. Clarence Mabanag, Jude Siapno, Matthew Hornung and Francisco Vazquez, allegedly part of the Riders, were fired from the police force after a rookie officer reported the alleged misconduct to supervisors. Mabanag, Siapno and Hornung are on trial. Vazquez, whom authorities believe has fled the country, is a fugitive. Defense attorneys had hoped that Word’s testimony would bolster the defense by proving that there were edicts from the top that promoted the officers’ actions. The testimony from Word didn’t come without a court fight with prosecutor David Hollister. While Alameda County Superior Court Judge Leopoldo Dorado rejected defense arguments that Mayor Jerry Brown, City Manager Robert Bobb and City Attorney John Russo should testify, he did allow Word to take the stand. Word’s testimony revealed that shortly after he was made the city’s top cop in 1999, he was under pressure by the city to immediately cut crime by 20 percent. Lead defense attorney Rains implied that Word’s predecessor, Joseph Samuels Jr., was ousted because he didn’t cut crime enough. As part of the crackdown, Word said, 57 officers were reassigned to do more aggressive patrols. In one month the program cut crime by 27 percent compared with the same month in the previous year, but Word testified that he asked cops to try to reduce crime even more. The defendants testified earlier that they were told by supervisors that they could get tough with suspects and the department would back them — a statement Word disputed. Word, who was dressed in a dark pinstriped suit and a blue tie, gave carefully worded answers as Rains tried to draw out testimony that would be helpful to his clients. Rains asked Word if putting “hands on” suspects is bad. “Not always,” Word said. “Police work involves the use of force?” Rains queried. “Sometimes,” the chief replied. Through questioning, Rains pointed out that during that project, which was called SANE (Strategic Application of Narcotics Enforcement), officers did many things that that the prosecution has portrayed as sinister. They included doing aggressive patrols, using rookies on busts and communicating on unrecorded police radio channels, Rains said. During his testimony, Word confirmed that some of the alleged incidents happened in areas that were known internally as some of the worst drug “hot spots” in Oakland. Word also testified that “it has been painful to see this thing unfold.” Outside court, the chief of police told reporters that he supported prosecuting the Riders. “You don’t kidnap people,” Word said. “Your don’t beat people. Those aren’t things that any police organization should condone.” During court recess, prosecutor Hollister said Word’s testimony was a ploy to “distract” the jury from the core crimes. During the crackdown, 750 other police officers were fighting crime without breaking the law, Hollister said. “The difference is,” Hollister said, “they were not jumping out, grabbing everyone, sorting it out later and covering it up with a false police report.” Rains told reporters that he believed Word was well aware of the tactics being used to curb crime in West Oakland. “I do not believe that in a program of this magnitude that . . . [Word didn't know] what was going on in the streets.” Word’s testimony will continue Monday. So far, defendants Mabanag and Siapno have testified. Outside of court Thursday, Hornung said he would not take the stand. Fallout from the scandal has already led to efforts to make sweeping changes in Word’s police force. The city of Oakland agreed to pay $11 million to settle federal lawsuits filed by 119 plaintiffs who say they were victims of Oakland cops. The settlement included reforms and a monitor to oversee the city’s compliance with the settlement. Indeed, Oakland police were under scrutiny again this week when the City Council ordered an independent investigation of an April clash between anti-war protestors and the police. Several activists and longshoreman reporting for work were injured after police fired “non lethal” projectiles at the crowd. The confrontation drew national media attention.

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