Court appoints new official to reform Oakland police force

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 05, 2013 11:34 PM

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A federal judge has named a former Baltimore police commissioner to implement reforms at the Oakland Police Department that were mandated by the 2003 settlement of a civil rights lawsuit.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed Thomas Frazier to serve as compliance director of the department. Frazier will have the power to spend city funds and replace staff, including Police Chief Howard Jordan.

Frazier, a Vietnam War veteran who served for nearly three decades in the police department of San Jose, California, is scheduled to take his new post next week.

Frazier will be responsible for enforcing reform mandates resulting from a civil rights lawsuit known as the Riders case that was settled in 2003. In the suit, Oakland police were accused of beating suspects and planting evidence.

Henderson had threatened the Northern California city with a federal takeover of its police force for failure to make changes. In December, the judge said he would name a compliance director instead. Frazier's appointment allows Oakland police officials to continue to operate with some independence.

Oakland, a city of about 400,000, had 131 homicides in 2012, making it one of the country's most dangerous places. It also has a history of civil unrest and police violence.

"We believe we can work well in collaboration with Mr. Frazier to accelerate our efforts to reach full compliance with the outstanding reform tasks," Mayor Jean Quan said in a statement issued with the city administrator and police chief.

Oakland agreed to 51 police reforms, including changes in the way officers are investigated and disciplined. Attorneys who represent plaintiffs in the case say reforms are still not being implemented.

Frazier will be paid $270,000 annually, according to court documents. He will answer to Henderson.

Frazier ended his career with the San Jose Police Department as deputy police chief. He is also a former director of the community policing office of the U.S. Justice Department, a senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins University and a consultant.

His firm, Frazier Group LLC, investigated Oakland's handling of the Occupy protests and in a report it handed down a harsh critique of the police force's response to the demonstrations.

William Bratton, the former Los Angeles police chief and Boston police commissioner, was hired by Oakland officials in January to come up with strategies for reducing crime. The decision was criticized by some residents opposed to aggressive tactics that they believe he may help oversee.

Following Frazier's appointment, Bratton will continue to work with the police chief, who will monitor the day-to-day operations of the force.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Stacey Joyce)