OAKLAND -- The city's court-appointed top cop got resistance from Mayor Jean Quan during a recent meeting that sources said likely led to a federal judge threatening sanctions if city officials tried to limit the officer's authority.
Thomas Frazier, whose title of compliance director belies his expansive powers over Oakland's police department, raised eyebrows when he told top city brass earlier this month that one of his priorities would be the policing of pawn shops.
Sources said the mayor questioned whether the crime-fighting matter was relevant to Frazier's mission in Oakland -- to make the department finally satisfy reforms stemming from the decade-old Riders police brutality case.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson made clear on Wednesday that Frazier's powers go well beyond the specific reform tasks that are geared toward making police more accountable and helping the department better police itself.
In a tersely worded two-page order, Henderson noted that the city had agreed that the compliance director has "the power to review, investigate and take corrective action regarding OPD policies, procedures and practices ... even if (they) do not fall squarely within any specific (reform) task."
Henderson also wrote that if the city tried to challenge the scope of Frazier's authority, he might appoint a lawyer to represent Frazier and charge the fees to the city.
Frazier, a former Baltimore police commissioner, has gotten off to a rocky start with city leaders. A federal magistrate judge is mediating a dispute over whether Frazier, who has a base salary of $270,000, should also receive more than $60,000 in fringe benefits that the city is contesting.
Officials acknowledged "areas of disagreement" with Frazier, but downplayed any rifts in a joint statement released Thursday by City Administrator Deanna Santana, City Attorney Barbara Parker, police Chief Howard Jordan and Quan.
"We remain fully committed to working collaboratively with the compliance director, as (the) court has ordered, and fully understand his authority," they said.
Quan and Frazier didn't respond to interview requests Thursday.
Oakland agreed to accept the powerful compliance director's post last year rather than risk Henderson placing the entire police department under federal control for backsliding on reforms that were supposed to be completed five years ago.
City leaders are desperate to finally be done with the decade-old reform effort which has proved costly and further stigmatized the police department. Continued stagnation could make it harder for the city to seek a new public safety tax to help bolster police staffing, officials said.
For police watchers, Henderson's order Wednesday was a clear sign that Frazier's powers are broader than the city envisioned. Geoff Collins, a department advocate, said the order made it clear that Oakland officials need to take a nonconfrontational approach with Frazier.
"They need to sit down and figure out how to work with him," he said, "because if they try (to fight), they're going to get crushed."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.