Click photo to enlarge
Thomas Frazier, court-appointed overseer for Oakland s police department
Thomas Frazier
Thomas Frazier, court-appointed overseer for Oakland s police department (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun file (1999))

OAKLAND -- The city's court-appointed police leader responsible for satisfying long overdue reforms has expanded his mission to include bolstering the ranks of Oakland's severely undermanned force.

Concerned that scheduled police academies won't produce enough recruits to offset retirements and resignations, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier is demanding quick action to stem attrition, boost recruiting efforts and hire officers from other departments.

Failure to take action would drain Oakland police of its senior leaders and leave it "with an increasing percentage of junior officers," Frazier wrote in his monthly status report released Wednesday.

Assistant chief Paul Figueroa told council members in July that the department was preparing an academy for about eight to 15 recruits from other departments.

Like many major police departments, Oakland has generally chosen to train its own recruits rather than hire from other departments. The last so-called lateral academy fared poorly, police sources have said. Many of the recruits quickly left Oakland for other jobs, and those who remained lost their jobs when the city laid off 80 police officers in 2010.

"My experience is we've never had any luck with laterals staying in Oakland," said Geoff Collins, a police booster who has sat on boards overseeing oral exams for lateral hires.

There are benefits to hiring officers from other departments. They are much less costly to train and can start work after about a 10-week training period.

"Laterals are the quickest way to get officers on the street, and that's what people want to see," Councilman Larry Reid said.

Police union President Barry Donelan said Frazier was right to focus on staffing issues and push for hiring transfers. "Even though we haven't had recent success with lateral academies, we've had success previously with them, and the fact is we need bodies."

As of late July, the department had just 625 sworn officers, despite being authorized for 665. The department's ranks swelled to nearly 650 after a police academy class graduated earlier this year, but a steady stream of retirements and resignations have chipped away at staffing. The department has lost several officers to San Francisco, which pays more than Oakland and has fewer calls for service per officer.

Donelan said morale is low in Oakland, officers get little support from city leadership and have been forced to work mandatory overtime. "It's very difficult to convince officers to stay," he said.

Frazier was granted far-reaching power over Oakland's department earlier this year to push through reforms stemming from the Riders police brutality scandal. Although the reforms are geared toward helping the department police itself, Frazier has expanded his focus to helping the embattled department regain its footing. Last month, he authorized the department to hire retired officers to help do background checks of potential hires.

Frazier wrote Tuesday that the department is struggling with "a substantial number" of deficiencies that impede it from addressing violent crime and meeting reforms. "Crafting sustainable and durable programs that facilitate the delivery of these essential city services has become high priority," he wrote.

August proved to be a difficult month for the reform effort, according to Frazier's report. The department met only two out of 11 benchmarks. Frazier chalked up the poor results to challenges in revising department policies. Cooperation with city leaders, he added, had continued to improve.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.