OAKLAND -- A former San Jose deputy chief, who last year authored a scathing report of Oakland's police department and refused attempts by top city officials to censor it, has been named to oversee the department's sputtering reform drive.
In a surprise move, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed Thomas Frazier to the powerful new post of compliance director.
Frazier will have unprecedented powers, including authority to spend city money and overrule top commanders, to get Oakland police to fully satisfy reforms that were supposed to be completed five years ago.
Henderson ordered the city to pay Frazier $270,000 per year -- a higher salary than Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan's. Frazier, who did not return phone calls, will start work March 11, Henderson wrote in a three-page order filed late Monday.
"We believe we can work well in collaboration with Mr. Frazier to accelerate our efforts to reach full compliance with the outstanding reform tasks," Mayor Jean Quan, City Administrator Deanna Santana and Jordan said in a prepared statement.
City leaders agreed to cede significant power over its police department in December as part of an agreement with attorneys who represented 119 plaintiffs in a civil suit connected with the 1999 Riders police brutality scandal. Had the city not settled, it risked Henderson ordering a total federal takeover of the department.
Frazier, who also served as Baltimore's police commissioner, will be able to seek Chief Jordan's ouster if reforms continue to lag.
"I'm encouraged by the selection," said John Burris who represented plaintiffs in the Riders case. "I think we've got a very knowledgeable person who knows about the Oakland Police Department and should be able to hit the ground running. The report he issued last year really confirmed that he was unafraid to make tough calls about a police department."
In a study that cost the city $100,000, Frazier found that police made major mistakes in their handling of Occupy Oakland protesters and that the errors were caused by institutional deficiencies in the department.
The report painted a picture of a dysfunctional and severely understaffed police force in which "many assigned investigators and supervisors lack the technical proficiency and, in many cases, the experience to conduct comprehensive, aggressive and unbiased investigations."
He also wrote that the department was not historically "a learning organization" where senior commanders focused on career development and training.
An investigation by the East Bay Express found that Santana, the city administrator, had sought to redact some of Frazier's criticisms, but was refused by Frazier.
City officials did not touch on that episode in their statement, saying that they had implemented his suggestions and have "a successful recent track record working with Mr. Frazier and achieving desired results."
Sources close to the deliberations said that Frazier was not one of several candidates nominated for the job by either the city or opposing attorneys.
Sgt. Barry Donelan, who heads Oakland's police union, said he was glad the appointment had been made. "We look forward with his guidance at getting into compliance ... and fighting the rising tide of crime in Oakland."
The several outstanding reforms focus on improving police accountability in the wake of the Riders scandal in which four officers were accused of beating up and framing West Oakland drug suspects.
The department has failed to meet standards when it comes to investigating its officers, reporting the use of force and tracking officers who exhibit potentially risky behavior.
Frazier will have 30 days to submit a plan for completing the reforms and will have to begin issuing monthly status reports in May.
Since 2001, Frazier has headed The Frazier Group, LLC, a police consulting firm. From 1999-2001 he directed the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Before that, he served five years as Baltimore's chief and worked for 27 years in San Jose's police department.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435. Kristin Bender contributed to this story.