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Judge appoints director to oversee Oakland police’s beleaguered force

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POSTED March 5, 2013 7:21 p.m.

 

OAKLAND (AP) — A federal judge has appointed a former police commissioner from Baltimore to oversee the embattled Oakland police department.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson on Monday surprisingly selected Thomas C. Frazier as a compliance director that will give him broad authority over the beleaguered force.

In his new role, Frazier will have the power to seek the dismissal of the police chief and his command staff and could overrule major department decisions.

Oakland officials and two lawyers seeking a receivership of the department agreed late last year to appoint a compliance director, avoiding an unprecedented federal takeover of the force. The deal stems from a decade-old police brutality lawsuit settlement resulting in still uncompleted court-ordered reforms.

Frazier, who has overseen similar situations in Los Angeles and Detroit, could start as early as next week. Frazier, whose police consulting group wrote a critical report last year about the Oakland police's handling of Occupy Oakland the previous year, was not the top recommendation of either the city or the lawyers.

However, both parties seemed pleased with the selection.

"We believe we can work well in collaboration with Mr. Frazier to accelerate our efforts to reach full compliance with the outstanding reform tasks," Oakland officials said in a statement. "Everyone involved in this case is working toward the same goals: enhanced constitutional policing and strengthened relationships between our police and our communities."

John Burris, one of the two lawyers overseeing the settlement and reforms, said Monday that with Frazier's extensive law enforcement background, the judge made an excellent choice.

"(Frazier) is well respected, and we think he will do a terrific job," Burris said. "He already has experience with Oakland so the learning curve should be fairly short from our point of view."

Frazier will be based in Oakland for one year or until the police department has reached full compliance with the reforms, the judge has said. Frazier, who will be paid $270,000 — higher than the police chief, but slightly lower than the city administrator — will report directly to the court.

It's expected that Frazier will have to file a list of critical, longstanding issues for the department to finally resolve, including incidents involving unjustified use of force, racial profiling and bias-based policing.

His appointment stems from a 2003 lawsuit filed amid claims that several rogue officers beat or framed drug suspects in 2000. The claims resulted in nearly $11 million in payments to 119 plaintiffs and attorneys.

The settlement initially called for the reforms to be completed within five years. But Burris and attorney Jim Chanin said high-ranking city officials thwarted those efforts, and the lawyers asked the judge in October to place the department under federal control.

City officials, however, say they are close to completing the assigned tasks.

Frazier, also a former deputy chief in nearby San Jose, is no stranger to Oakland. Last year, his group criticized the Oakland police in a report saying that the department was ill-equipped to handle a violent protest just hours after officers cleared an Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall on Oct. 25, 2011.

The independent study reported that police weren't prepared due to inadequate staffing, poor planning and training. Police fired tear gas canisters and beanbag projectiles and some protesters threw glass and other objects.

Critics and residents complained about the police response that night, most notably after protester Scott Olsen, an Iraqi war veteran, was struck by a police beanbag and received a fractured skull that resulted in a brain injury and speech problems.

Olsen has filed a federal lawsuit against the city.

Frazier's report issued 68 recommendations for the department, including revising its use of force and mutual aid policies. City officials say they have adopted many of the recommendations.

 

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