Last Friday, the Oakland Police Department announced it was launching an investigation into allegations that several of its officers showed support for Facebook posts sharing pro-Trump conspiracy theories and extremist far-right ideology written by an ex-OPD officer who was present at the January 6 insurrection in Washington D.C.
OPD’s investigation came after The Oaklandside identified a few current and former OPD officers who “liked” and commented on posts by former Oakland officer Jurell Snyder. On Facebook and an interview with KPIX, Snyder, who hasn’t been employed by OPD since 2015, defended the actions of the Capitol mob and repeated conspiracy theories about election fraud. He also shared memes linked to the extremist “boogaloo” movement, which advocates for violent civil war.
“The values of the Oakland Police Department are clear: We will not tolerate any form of hate speech, any expression that supports hate speech, or any acts of subversion, whether in-person or on online platforms,” the department said in a press release.
The Oaklandside has learned that this isn’t the only current OPD investigation examining police officers’ use of social media.
Last year, according to sources close to the police department, someone started an Instagram account under the handle @crimereductionteam. For months, the account, which The Oaklandside reviewed, was used to post dozens of memes commenting, usually in mundane humorous ways, about being a police officer. However, many of the posts included racist and sexist commentary, and some expressed disdain for OPD policies meant to prevent police brutality and corruption.
Sources close to the department, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said they believe the account may have been run by an Oakland police officer, although no one has been identified so far.
Crime Reduction Teams are specialized units in the department that focus on violent crime. The Instagram account’s profile picture was of a police car at night, possibly in Oakland. Posts used language and jargon specific to police culture, and discussed news and events in Oakland. It sometimes mentioned Oakland residents by name, including at least one police commissioner.
Unlike Facebook, Instagram does not require users to create accounts under their own names, and The Oaklandside was not able to definitively verify whether current or former OPD officers interacted with the “Crime Reduction Team” Instagram account, much less who ran the account.
The Instagram account was removed last week and is no longer visible to the public. However, The Oaklandside captured numerous screenshots and has obtained an internal OPD email sent to officers in September warning them that engaging with “The Crime Reduction Team” Instagram account “could reflect poorly” on them.
We first asked the Oakland Police Department about this account in December, and were told the department could not comment due to an “ongoing investigation.” We asked OPD for comment again on Monday; they said OPD “would like to reinforce that if anyone has any information that they can share with the department on this or any other social media activity of concern, please bring that forward to our Internal Affairs Unit, and your confidentiality will be maintained. We have prioritized these matters and will hold any members accountable for any violations as outlined above.”
Racist and sexist images and jokes
The Instagram account first appeared in September. A lot of the page’s content focused on the idea that police officers are wrongfully overseen and punished by civilian authorities and police leaders. One post along these lines depicted a young white woman sitting on a couch as a “cop that just wants to fight crime.” Five Black men in underwear look over her shoulder, in a clear reference to exploitative group sex. The men are labeled “internal affairs,” “police commission,” “command staff,” “spineless cops,” and “criminals taking advantage of the situation.”
The image was from a meme known as “Piper Perri surrounded,” taken from a pornographic film. According to the website Know Your Meme, the Piper Perri image is meant to express “willful ignorance to an overwhelming series of problems.”
Other posts by @crimereductionteam made light of police brutality and fatal shootings, or expressed opposition to requirements that officers report when they use force against people.
Use-of-force monitoring is employed by the Oakland Police Department to try to prevent officers from unnecessarily harming people. Sergeants who oversee patrol squads and the crime-reduction teams regularly review the records and activities of officers they supervise, and are directed to intervene if an officer uses unnecessary force.
Closely monitoring when and how officers use force is a key part of the department’s court-ordered reforms, which are required under a 17-year-old lawsuit settlement after the 2000 “Riders” scandal in which a squad of West Oakland cops was caught beating up and framing drug suspects.
Multiple posts by the Instagram account made light of police officers using force, and dismissed police brutality complaints as annoyances.
Another theme of the now-removed page was the sexist notion that female officers offer sex to receive choice assignments and promotions. A post from September used an image of a woman taking off her shirt to explain how “unqualified” female officers get assigned to certain jobs.
The Oaklandside is choosing not to publish screenshots we captured of posts that include sexual imagery.
Other posts displayed contempt for department rules and dislike of command staff and internal watchdogs. In September, the account’s owner joked about calling an internal affairs investigator a “garbage person,” while a post from October made fun of OPD’s discipline system and implied that officers are happy to be suspended for breaking department rules.
A post from September uses a video clip from “The Office” of the actor Steve Carell screaming “no, God, please no” over and over in response to the caption, “when Sgt tells you that you have a ride along and a police commissioner walks in.”
Other posts directed slurs at racial justice protesters or made light of police brutality against people at protests. In a December post, one of the last before the account was taken down, a photograph of a U.C. Davis police officer pepper-spraying a group of nonviolent student protesters in a nationally reviled incident of police brutality was posted with the following caption: “A Davis police officer waters his hippies, circa 2011.”
“No one has been able to tell me specifically who is behind this account”
On September 23, Sgt. Kathryn Jones of OPD’s Intelligence Division sent the email to the entire department warning officers of “social media concerns.”
Jones’s email included a screenshot of the @crimereductionteam’s Instagram page, and although she didn’t address the content of the page, Jones wrote, “This email is just a reminder, pay attention to the people asking to follow you and the people you decide to follow. No one has been able to tell me who specifically is behind this account. Something as simple as following an account that is questionable or spouts negative rhetoric could reflect poorly on you. Even worse, we do not want any officers to be targeted either via social media or at their homes.”
A few hours later, a post appeared on the @crimereductionteam Instagram page referring to a “department-wide email about us” and saying “only took five days,” referring to the fact that the account had been created five days before Sgt. Jones sent the email. They also added an emoji of a rat, a derogatory term some police officers use to refer to colleagues who report police misconduct. Three days later, another post was added calling people who unfollowed the Instagram account because of Jones’s email “idiots.”
The Oaklandside asked OPD in December about the @crimereductionteam Instagram account, and for a copy of Jones’s email. An OPD public information officer declined to comment or provide the email, citing an “ongoing investigation.”
Police officers’ free speech rights are limited while on the job
OPD’s investigations—looking into whether Oakland officers endorsed conspiracy theories about voter fraud shared by the ex-officer who was at the capitol insurrection, and who was involved with the Instagram account—raise questions about freedom of speech.
David Snyder is a lawyer and former journalist with the First Amendment Coalition and an expert on freedom of speech and government accountability. Snyder says government employees, including police officers, do not have unfettered freedom of speech if they express something in their capacity as a government official. But they retain their full rights to free speech when speaking as private citizens.
“The moment you move into the realm of acting in official capacity or association with your police status, then the government has the capacity to restrict speech,” said Snyder. “A police department can have policies that say police aren’t allowed to advocate violent overthrow of the government, and have the ability to rein in officers who do those things, if they’re doing them as police officers.”
OPD has several policies that limit officers’ speech and conduct, including while off duty. One rule requires officers to “avoid any conduct that brings disrepute to the Department or impairs its efficient and effective operation.” A City Council resolution passed last June directs the police chief and city administrator to fire police officers who exhibit “racist practices, behaviors, and actions.