Thomas Frazier (Baltimore Sun staff file photo/Lloyd Fox.)
Thomas Frazier (Baltimore Sun staff file photo/Lloyd Fox.)

Thomas Frazier, the new court-ordered overseer for the Oakland Police Department will be paid a base salary of $270,000 -- hardly chump change. In one of his first public acts last week, the former Baltimore Police commissioner was feuding with city officials over his compensation package.

Frazier, who has a pension from San Jose Police Department where he spent 27 years rising to the rank of deputy chief, wants the cash equivalent of vacation, sick time and a pension benefit city officials insist he is not entitled to. That would propel his salary well above $300,000. City Attorney Barbara Parker is refusing to sign off on the contract.

Not a great start for the partnership between Frazier and city officials who must work together to move OPD into compliance with reforms mandated under the 2003 police brutality settlement stemming from the Riders case.

As one former OPD commander aptly put it, "once again, petty interests have eclipsed stewardship of the policing effort in Oakland."

It will be up to the federal court that appointed the 68-year-old Frazier and set his compensation to settle the mess.

Frazier is the latest in a string of overseers spanning the last decade that U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson has installed at Oakland's expense to oversee OPD reforms. For those not familiar with the long tortured history, four Oakland police officers -- known as the Riders -- were alleged to have beaten and framed suspects in West Oakland between 1996 and 2000. OPD fired them. The Alameda County District Attorney filed criminal charges but juries failed to convict. One hundred nineteen plaintiffs filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging police brutality. They were represented by attorneys John Burris and James Chanin. Oakland agreed to a $10.9 million settlement and promised to institute a host of police department reforms to prevent future officer abuses and make OPD more accountable to the community it serves. The Negotiated Settlement Agreement is known as NSA (it can be found here: http://bit.ly/171YUas).

Henderson, who was also the judge on the case then, appointed monitors to chart the police department's progress. Oakland agreed to cover all of the costs of reforms which included among other things, instituting and implementing policies and procedures to prevent racial profiling, requiring timely reporting of incidents involving use of force, setting up a system to identify problem officers, and thorough investigation of citizen complaints.

The process was expected to take five years.

It has dragged on for 10. The costs have soared. Millions upon millions have been spent yet both the judge and monitor Robert Warshaw with Police Performance Solutions say Oakland's progress has "stagnated." OPD has paid out more than $58 million on police misconduct lawsuits during the same time period.

What has the NSA's impact been on a city with scarce public safety resources and escalating violence? A place where people are shot and robbed with alarming regularity? Where residents are so fearful for their personal safety that those who can afford it are hiring their own private security patrols?

The NSA has devolved into a bureaucratic nightmare that has consumed resources that might otherwise have gone into fighting crime. But beyond the financial cost, the long years of the oversight process have had a toxic effect on officer morale. Some within OPD insist that it has discouraged proactive policing. One might well argue that the monitor has gone beyond the mandate of the NSA in his judgments of officers' actions in the field.

Since 2003, the city has paid out $10 million to "independent" monitors who have an inherent conflict of interest. The longer the process drags on the more they get paid. Police Performance Solutions has been awarded $3 million in contracts since it took over in 2010.

There are the costs for 10 years running to the plaintiff's attorneys, subcontractors, vendors, and who knows how many hours of staff time within OPD and City Hall spent on NSA-related tasks.

I am not suggesting that many of the reforms aren't necessary to transform an OPD culture that has led many people, particularly in poor African-American and Latino communities, to view the police as the enemy.

What I do wonder is whether the NSA has gone overboard, creating a situation where police and elected officials are spending more time and energy policing the police than figuring out how to protect citizens from crime.

Oakland is in desperate need of an NSA exit strategy.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/Tammerlin.