OAKLAND -- The city's police force got another jolt Wednesday when a federal judge fired his hand-picked official overseeing the Oakland Police Department, citing a lack of progress in completing a decade-old reform drive.
In ousting former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier from the powerful post of compliance director, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson turned full day-to-day authority over the reform effort to Robert Warshaw, a former Rochester, N.Y., police chief, who has been monitoring the department's sputtering reform effort for several years.
The move, which came as a surprise to city leaders, will cut down the cost to taxpayers of what had become an increasingly Byzantine oversight regime. But it leaves the department firmly in the grasp of Warshaw, who has had strained relations with city officials.
Henderson appointed Frazier last March and gave him unprecedented power over the department in order to finally get police to satisfy court-mandated reforms stemming from the 1999 Riders police brutality scandal.
But in a three-page order released late Wednesday, Henderson wrote that the arrangement of having both a compliance director and a monitor had been "unnecessarily duplicative" and "less efficient and more expensive than the court contemplated."
Henderson chose to keep Warshaw and dispatch Frazier, whose annual compensation topped $330,000, along with his paid staff. Warshaw will assume Frazier's powers, which include the ability to spend city funds and overrule top commanders. He also will receive up to $150,000 on top of his firm's current two-year, $1.78 million contract with the city.
Mayor Jean Quan had no comment about the sudden shake-up Wednesday. Police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said, "We're going to continue to do what we need to do and we will certainly continue our efforts for full compliance."
John Burris, who represented the plaintiffs in the Riders case and has remain involved in the reform effort, said he hoped that giving more authority to Warshaw would speed up progress but was concerned that without Frazier, there would be no compliance official stationed in Oakland.
"To me there was a lot of value in having someone like (Frazier) on the scene here," Burris said.
Warshaw's consulting firm, Police Performance Solutions, is based in Dover, N.H. ¿Henderson in his order contemplated providing funds for Warshaw to have a greater presence in Oakland.
Frazier raised eyebrows by using his power not only to direct the reform effort, but to try to improve the department. He pushed for the city to replace broken radios, devote more resources to police recruitment and spend more on technology upgrades and training.
Frazier also sided with the police union, by overruling a City Council directive to transfer the intake of complaints against officers outside the Police Department.
Frazier's actions made him popular with the rank and file but raised questions about whether he had lost his primary focus when last month Warshaw released a report finding that the reform effort had regressed.
"There certainly was a view that Frazier had gone outside the four corners of the (reform drive), and I think the judge probably felt that as well," Burris said.
The reform effort was launched in 2003 to help the department better police itself and prevent racial profiling. The eight reform tasks still not fully completed include investigation of the use of force by officers and tracking officers with a history of high-risk behavior.
Oakland officials had initially wanted Warshaw to monitor the reform effort, but relations with him have been strained. Two years ago, the city sought to remove Warshaw after City Administrator Deanna Santana accused him of sexual harassment. Henderson had the complaint investigated but allowed Warshaw to continue in the post without releasing the investigator's findings.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.