OAKLAND -- The city's new court-appointed police leader is so distrusted within the department that several police officials, including a former chief, fear his unchecked authority will harm public safety and spur even more officers to look for new jobs.

Speaking publicly for the first time since he retired last year, former Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan said that a federal judge's decision to entrust the department to Robert Warshaw will be "terrible" for the city.

"To put him in charge is a travesty of justice," Jordan said Thursday in an exclusive interview. "I don't feel that he has the best interests of the Oakland Police Department and the citizens of Oakland. I think he rules by fear and intimidation. That is why no one in the department will speak on the record about what they are experiencing."

Warshaw, a former Rochester, N.Y., police chief, does not speak to reporters and did not return calls Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson stunned city officials Wednesday by elevating Warshaw from monitoring Oakland's progress in satisfying a decade-old reform drive to overseeing both the reform drive and many facets of the Police Department.

The oversight job had belonged to former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier. But Henderson, claiming that the two-headed oversight team was "unnecessarily duplicative," fired Frazier and transferred his powers to Warshaw.

Warshaw, who previously could only report on the department's progress, now has authority to spend city funds, demote top commanders and revisit disciplinary rulings.

Jordan and Warshaw began working together in 2010 when Warshaw was appointed monitor. According to sources, Jordan retired last May upon learning that Frazier was preparing to seek his ouster. Jordan's departure came on the heels of a negative progress report from Warshaw.

Jordan said that officers should fear Warshaw's enhanced authority, especially when it comes to disciplinary matters. "I think he has personal vendettas against people in that department and if left alone or left unchecked, I think he's going to abuse that authority."

Oakland Police Department compliance director Thomas Frazier was released Wednesday by Judge Thelton Henderson, after less than a year on the job.
Oakland Police Department compliance director Thomas Frazier was released Wednesday by Judge Thelton Henderson, after less than a year on the job. (Baltimore Sun staff photo/Lloyd Fox) (Lloyd Fox)

Jordan said that Warshaw used the term "nut-cutting time" in talking about disciplining officers.

"I believe there is going to be a mass exodus from the department because of the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that he creates," Jordan said. Oakland already loses about five officers a month to retirement and other departments.

A current police officer who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation gave a similar account of Warshaw. "His ego is unbelievable," the officer said. "Everybody hates him."

City leaders struck a more conciliatory tone Thursday.

In a prepared statement Mayor Jean Quan said, "I know (Warshaw) is committed to the betterment of Oakland and thank him for his ongoing work with us." When asked about concerns from police officials, Quan's spokesman, Sean Maher, stressed that both Quan and interim Chief Sean Whent both have a strong working relationship with Warshaw.

The reform drive, launched 11 years ago, stems from the 1999 Riders police brutality scandal, in which four officers were accused of beating and framing drug suspects in West Oakland.

Warshaw has found that police are still not in full compliance with eight of the remaining 22 reform tasks, which include investigating the use of force by officers and tracking officers with a history of high-risk behavior.

Police supporters have said Warshaw and the reform effort are to blame for the department devoting disproportionate resources to investigating officer misconduct as opposed to fighting crime.

Jordan said Warshaw was not in a good position to oversee the reforms because he hasn't been a chief for well over a decade. "He lacks the experience of dealing with contemporary policing issues," Jordan said. "That is a fundamental flaw in his appointment."

Jordan also addressed an issue that city leaders would only raise privately -- that Warshaw, whose firm this year will be paid upward of $1 million to monitor reforms, has a financial incentive to keep finding the department out of compliance.

"He is the fox guarding the henhouse," Jordan said.

Warshaw worked as deputy drug czar in the Clinton administration after retiring from police work and has become one of the nation's most sought-after police monitors. He has overseen a federal reform effort in Detroit and last month was appointed to monitor a reform effort targeting Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office in Maricopa County, Ariz.

Jim Chanin, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the Riders case, noted that Warshaw has gotten other police departments into compliance without making enemies. "He's made mistakes, but by and large, he's done a very good job," Chanin said. "I certainly don't think he's anti-police."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.