Federal Judge Thelton Henderson named former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier as the new compliance director of the Oakland Police Department on Monday.
The compliance director will be responsible for ensuring OPD compliance with the final 11 reforms from the Negotiated Settlement Agreement stemming from the 2000 “Riders” lawsuit. The position is an alternative to a court-appointed federal receiver.
Frazier is expected to start work in Oakland on March 11. His position is full-time and on-site, though he will answer to Henderson and the court. Frazier will be in Oakland for at least one year, according to court documents. The city will foot the bill for his $270,000 salary, an amount greater than that of OPD Chief Howard Jordan, according to court documents.
Frazier is best known in Oakland for his leadership of the police consulting firm The Frazier Group, LLC, which investigated the city’s response to the evictions of the Occupy Oakland camp and resulting clash with protesters on October 25, 2011. The report, which was released in June 2012, called the OPD’s actions “flawed,” citing unsatisfactory crowd control policies and inadequate use-of-force reports that were not reviewed by the department immediately after the incident.
The report also expressed “serious concerns” about the quality of the OPD’s criminal investigation of the police-inflicted injury of Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, who was hit in the head with a beanbag round. A tear-gas canister was then fired by an OPD officer into a crowd of people who gathered to help Olsen. The report said the OPD’s response was the result of “cascading elements” for the department, including unstable executive leadership, training deficiencies and staffing cuts.
In a joint statement released Monday night, Mayor Jean Quan, City Administrator Deanna Santana and Jordan welcomed Frazier, writing, “We believe we can work well in collaboration with Mr. Frazier to accelerate our efforts to reach full compliance with the outstanding reform tasks. 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 plaintiffs’ attorneys in the 2000 Riders lawsuit who has been involved with the settlement process, also said he agreed with the judge’s decision to appoint Frazier. “He has what is needed from our point of view because he has looked at Oakland before, regarding Occupy Oakland. For me, he’s not starting anew,” Burris said. “He can hit the ground running, if you will, so I think it was a perfect choice.”
Frazier’s nomination marks the possible end of a 10-year threat of federal receivership for the OPD. The issue stems from the 2000 lawsuit that accused four OPD officers, who called themselves the “Riders,” of planting evidence on suspects, beating them and filing false police reports.
The lawsuit included more than a hundred plaintiffs and the city eventually settled, paying plaintiffs $10.9 million in damages and lawyers’ fees. It also included a promise of reform from the OPD, an agreement known as the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, or NSA. Out of 51 original reforms, 11 still need to be made, including three tasks—reporting misconduct, managerial accountability and in the Internal Affairs department and timeliness and standards of compliance with Internal Affairs investigations—that are marked as “not in compliance.”
The progress is being tracked by an independent monitoring team that is headed by Robert Warshaw and answers to Henderson. This monitoring team will continue to be in place during Frazier’s tenure until compliance is achieved.
In the most recent report released in January, which documents the OPD’s progress from July to September 2012, Warshaw said the department was in its “second consecutive quarter of decline” in terms of compliance with the NSA.
“One thing should be clear from the long history of the Agreement: stagnation—and, now, decline—will not diminish the Court’s expectation, or the Monitor’s resolve that the Department live up to the terms of the Agreement,” Warshaw wrote in the report. “It is our hope that the appointment of the new Compliance Director will serve as an impetus to rejuvenate efforts and hold to great account those who have had the responsibility to institute reforms in the Department.”
The idea of hiring a compliance director came from a settlement agreement in December, which was discussed and agreed upon by city officials, OPD brass, the Oakland Police Officers’ Association (OPOA) and civil rights attorneys Burris and Jim Chanin. It includes the city and department’s consent that the compliance director has the authority to remove the police chief or demote deputy and assistant chiefs.
Both city officials and Burris and Chanin had the opportunity to submit their own suggestions for the position, though Henderson reserved the right to appoint his own choice. The names of three candidates were submitted under seal in January, said Sean Maher, communications director for the mayor. Frazier’s nomination was purely Henderson’s recommendation, Burris said. Henderson sat down with Oakland North reporter Mihir Zaveri in January to explain his thoughts on a compliance director.
As compliance director, Frazier is responsible for devising a “remedial action plan” to be completed during his first month that will detail how he will achieve NSA compliance by December 2013 or earlier. It will also include expected OPD task compliance expenditures. The court order also mandates that the plan include strategies to ensure that citizen allegations against the OPD are fairly investigated and that police misconduct complaints, claims and lawsuits are reduced.
Within 60 days of the compliance director’s appointment, Frazier will also be required to file a list of benchmarks separate from the NSA for the OPD to address, including resolving and reducing incidents of racial profiling and high-speed car pursuits.
However, the threat of receivership has not been eliminated. If the compliance director and remedial action plan are unsuccessful, the court could impose monetary sanctions, an expansion of the director’s powers or a full federal receivership.
“I hope he makes good recommendations to the department and that the department will follow them, and that he identifies those areas in the department that have been resistant to change and to hold them accountable,” Burris said. “I think he has to identify that first, and then give them a plan to implement. And if they don’t do it, then you have to terminate them.”