OAKLAND -- Thomas Frazier is scheduled to report for duty at Oakland police headquarters Monday with unprecedented power and a reputation for shaking up the status quo.
The former Baltimore police commissioner, who rose up the ranks in San Jose, is accountable only to the federal judge who last week appointed him to ram through reforms that Oakland police were supposed to have completed five years ago.
Despite the modest title of compliance director, Frazier, 68, will have authority to overrule top commanders, spend city funds and even oust Chief Howard Jordan and demote his deputies if he determines they are obstacles to the decade-old reform drive.
"I don't think anyone has ever had this kind of power over a police department," said Sam Walker a criminologist at the University of Nebraska Omaha, who has studied Oakland's failed police reforms.
The man critics in Baltimore derided as "TV Tom" for his love of the spotlight refused interview requests this week. But those familiar with him say Oakland is getting a strong-willed progressive who is unafraid to make enemies or stand up to politicians.
As Baltimore's top cop from 1994 to 1999, Frazier referred to himself as a "social worker with a gun." He built up the city's police athletic league and resisted cries from the rank-and-file and council members to adopt the "zero-tolerance" policies that Oakland's newest police consultant, William Bratton, had engineered to stunning success in New York City.
"He won't be intimidated by any outcry from the rank-and-file or the public," said Gary McLhinney, the former head of Baltimore's police union and a staunch Frazier critic. "When he gets an idea in his head, he'll run with it. He doesn't care if it's popular."
Oakland officials got a taste of Frazier's independent streak last year when they hired him to review the botched police handling of the first Occupy Oakland protest. Frazier painted a damning portrait of an understaffed department in disarray and then successfully fought what he considered to be an attempt by city leaders to censor some of his most serious findings.
The report appeared to have impressed U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who rejected three nominees for the compliance director post before turning to Frazier.
Frazier's job will be to do what four police chiefs and three mayors have failed to accomplish: comply with court-ordered reforms aimed at making police more accountable and helping the department to better police itself.
The reforms stem from the 2003 settlement of a civil case against four police officers known as the Riders, who were accused of framing and beating drug suspects in West Oakland. Several cities have agreed to similar reform mandates; Oakland is the first that failed to comply.
If Frazier also fails, Henderson could order a full federal takeover making Oakland the first U.S. city to lose total control of its police department.
Those who have served with Frazier and studied the departments he has led called him an inspired choice for the Oakland job.
"I think the judge picked the perfect person because he knows Oakland and he has a record of winning community support everywhere he's gone," said former San Jose police Chief Joseph McNamara, who promoted Frazier to the rank of deputy chief.
After 27 years in San Jose, Frazier was named police commissioner in Baltimore, where he set out to reform the department and give it a focus on community policing.
Despite doubters who said a West Coast chief couldn't handle an East Coast department, Frazier left Baltimore's police force in much better shape than he found it, said Sheldon Greenberg, who heads Johns Hopkins University's Police Executive Leadership Program.
"I thought he did an exceptional job," said Greenberg, who credited Frazier with developing a homegrown command staff and winning community support. "He did more for young people in Baltimore than most chiefs ever get to do for young people in their jurisdiction."
But Frazier also was dogged by claims of racial bias within the department and faced stiff opposition to his policy of rotating officers in and out of assignments, which broke up well-established units.
"Academics loved Tom; rank-and-file cops despised him" McLhinney said. "Tom was into the community policing model really to the extreme. He wasn't really interested in locking up bad guys. That wasn't his focus."
Frazier refused to target minor drug crimes despite mounting pressure from politicians angry that Baltimore hadn't seen anywhere close to the crime reductions New York City had tallied first under Bratton.
After Frazier left to take a leading community policing post with the Justice Department, Baltimore's new mayor brought in two of Bratton's top confidants, who wrote a report critical of Frazier's leadership.
In Oakland, Frazier will get to review any recommendation that Bratton makes as a consultant seeking to help the department reduce soaring rates of robberies, burglaries and homicides.
McLhinney said the two strong-willed chiefs "come from policing philosophies that don't fit," but several law enforcement experts said they actually have a lot in common. "I know that Bratton and Tom are on the same page," McNamara said. "They are both advocates of winning community support, especially in minority communities."
As compliance director, Frazier will have to reform how police investigate themselves and document their work. His report last year criticized internal affairs investigators for being "reluctant to aggressively seek the truth" and said the unit needed to be reorganized to improve efficiency.
To succeed where others have failed, Walker said, Frazier will also need a deft political touch, putting commanders on notice that they have risked demotion if they ignore his orders while molding a new generation of leaders and not undercutting an already weak chief.
"He has to show (the commanders) that there is a positive side to his being there," Walker said. "I think he's smart enough to figure that out."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.
frazier: The facts
Thomas Frazier began a 45-year career in law enforcement after serving in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Bronze Star.
1967 to 1994: Frazier worked in the San Jose Police Department, rising to the rank of deputy chief.
1994 to 1999: He led the Baltimore Police Department, where he established the nation's second largest Police Athletic League, serving 10,000 youths.
1994 to present: He served as a senior lecturer at the Division of Public Safety Leadership at Johns Hopkins University's School of Education.
1999 to 2001: He was appointed to direct the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
2001 to present: Frazier is a president of Frazier Group, a consulting firm that Oakland hired to review its handling of the first Occupy Oakland protest.