The City of Oakland’s efforts to civilianize its process of conducting reviews of the Oakland Police Department (OPD) have been diluted by a court-appointed administrator who retains oversight over the city’s reform initiatives.

Since 2006, Oakland has sought to bolster the power of the independent Citizens’ Police Review Board (CPRB). Efforts in the past several years have made progress on this front.

On Wednesday, Compliance Director Thomas Frazier sent an email to the Oakland City Council stating that only parts of its plan to reform the citizen complaint intake process will come to fruition.

In 2011, the Oakland City Council voted to allocate over $1,468,158 of its FY 2011-2013 Policy Budget  to hiring a dedicated CPRB Director and eight complaint intake staff. The end goal would be to replace sworn officers with civilians—freeing up sworn officers to return to patrol—and consolidate the complaint intake process within the CPRB.

Currently, both the CPRB and the Internal Affairs (IA) division of Oakland Police Department receive citizen complaints. IA retains the power to discipline its officers. On the flipside, the CPRB may conduct independent investigations but its findings carry not disciplinary weight.

While Frazier will permit the hiring of CPRB personnel to process citizen complaints, CPRB complaint intake staff will need to be housed within the IA division of the OPD.

Frazier handed down the opinion on Wednesday after consulting with U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who has the ultimate say over Oakland’s reform process. In his three paragraph email, Frazier announced his judgment regarding the reform but failed to divulge the rationale behind it.

“I recognize this has been an arduous process, as might be expected given that Internal Affairs, including the intake process, is a cornerstone of the NSA and any police department,” stated Frazier. “We are confident that there will be a collaborative effort among all the parties to ensure that reforms in this area are effective and sustainable.”

The decision was applauded by the Oakland Police Officers’ Association and criticized by police reform groups.

At least one member of the Oakland City Council was shocked after receiving the email. Prior to meeting with Frazier on Thursday to discuss the ins and outs of his decision, Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney had told the Contra Costa Times that she was “disappointed” in the ruling.

Since her meeting with Frazier, Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney has changed her tune.

“Oakland’s desire to reform its police department is a long-fight battle with many complex issues but the core issue is trust,” Gibson McElhaney remarked to PublicCEO in an email. “The OPD has violated the public trust so often, many advocates simply do not believe the department is capable of reform. Hence, a huge push to make the complaint intake process managed by civilians was seen as essential to ensuring integrity in the investigation of police misconduct.”

Gibson McElhaney stated that she plans on introducing a resolution redirecting the $1.4 million of funding allocated to civilianize the intake process to enhance and fully staff the CPRB. She believes this will provide the oversight board with the tools it needs to do an effective job for the residents of Oakland.

The public’s trust of the OPD has been shaky at best. Police brutality, killings at the hands of sworn officers, department mismanagement and corruption scandals have resulted in a loss of the public’s faith and left the OPD with a tarnished image.

The reform effort was led by the community group PUEBLO, which stands for People United for a Better Life in Oakland. Program Director Rashidah Grinage could not immediately be reached for comment.

Two years after the inclusion of $1.4 million for dedicated CPRB positions, community groups noticed that no action had been taken to consolidate the complaint intake function of the OPD to the CPRB.

At an April 16 City Council meeting, City Administrator Deanna Santana was called to attest to why she has failed to initiate the City Council’s directive. At the time, she stated that she first needed to obtain the sign-off of Frazier before proceeding with the department reorganization.

Santana manages both the CPRB and the OPD. It places her in a precarious situation.

In an interview with KLAW, Santana remarked, “I have to look at the [citizen complaint] case for its merits, whether an employee should be disciplined and make decisions where sometimes there’s lots of agreement between police department and CPRB, and where there’s disagreement.”

The public’s trust of the OPD has been shaky at best. Police brutality, killings at the hands of sworn officers, department mismanagement and corruption scandals have resulted in a loss of the public’s faith and left the OPD with a tarnished image.

The CPRB was established in 1979 as a way to keep tabs on the OPD after two officers killed a 14-year-old African-American boy named Melvin Black. Oakland residents were outraged after an independent investigation of the incident deemed it unjustified despite the concerted efforts of the OPD to stand up for its officers.

Compliance Director Frazier was appointed to serve as the overseer to Oakland’s Police Department. He is only accountable to the Judge Henderson who appointed him to expedite the compliance with the court-ordered reforms that were first slated for implementation five years prior.

Frazier is a former Baltimore police commissioner who made a name for himself working over 27 years in the San Jose police department. He is seen as a measure of last resort for the embattled city, and should he fail to enact change, the OPD is looking at a full federal takeover of its public safety forces.

According to Councilwoman Gibson McElhaney, the decision is in line with Oakland’s long term goal of reform:

“We want a process that serves and honors our people. An inadequately staffed CPRB would both frustrate the community and overwhelm the CPRB. We want the CPRB to succeed and we absolutely demand that IA be reformed. This decision is consistent with both of these desires.”