Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said Friday that Police Chief Sean Whent’s decision to suddenly announce his resignation Thursday night was entirely his own, even though his resignation means he won’t receive any severance pay.
Speaking at a news conference in her office at City Hall, Schaaf said, “The decision to resign was the chief’s.” Schaaf said, “All the decisions were made by myself and the city administrator (Sabrina Landreth)” with the concurrence of the monitor who is overseeing Police Department reforms in the 2003 settlement of a police misconduct lawsuit.
The mayor said Whent is temporarily being replaced by BART Deputy Police Chief Ben Fairow, who will serve as interim police chief for up to six months while the city conducts a national search for a new permanent chief.
Schaaf said Fairow worked for the Oakland Police Department for 21 years before joining BART five years ago and that while he was in Oakland he rose to the rank of captain and was commander of the department’s internal affairs division and its office of inspector general.
Joining Schaaf at the news conference, Fairow said he’s “honored” and “extremely grateful” to be named interim chief and is ready to “move forward in crime fighting.”
Schaaf said BART agreed to loan Fairow to Oakland for six months and Fairow hasn’t yet decided whether he will apply to be permanent chief in Oakland.
After the news conference, City Councilman Noel Gallo, who serves on the council’s public safety committee, said he thinks recent scandals that have hit the Police Department “had an influence” on Whent’s decision to resign.
Among those is an investigation into possible sexual misconduct involving police officers and a police dispatcher’s daughter. Two officers have resigned in the wake of the scandal and two others remain on paid administrative leave.
The possible misconduct was uncovered when the department’s internal affairs division investigated the suicide of Officer Brendan O’Brien last September.
O’Brien’s wife was shot to death in June 2014 but Whent said an investigation concluded that her death was a suicide, not a homicide.
In addition, one officer recently was charged with misdemeanor battery, trespassing and refusing to leave private property for an alleged drunken assault on a woman and her husband at their home in the Oakland hills last December and another officer was fired and was charged with two felony counts for allegedly using a gun while off-duty to threaten a man who was painting his apartment door in Emeryville on Feb. 17.
Gallo said, “I believe the chief (Whent) was doing the best he can” to improve the Police Department but added, “I understand the pressure he was under.”
Gallo said he is “completely surprised” by Whent’s decision to resign because he had seen Whent several times this week, including on Thursday, and Whent didn’t give any indication that he was resigning.
Gallo said Whent’s decision was “abrupt” and he has “many questions” about what really happened.
Gallo said he’s also “disturbed” that Oakland has gone through four police chiefs in recent years, a fact that he blamed on city leaders, including mayors and council members, interfering with the department.
Whent was only permanent chief for a little over two years, as he was named to the post by former Mayor Jean Quan in April 2014. He was named interim chief in May 2013, two days after former Chief Howard Jordan suddenly resigned, citing health reasons.
Former Assistant Police Chief Anthony Toribio replaced Jordan as interim chief but left the post after only two days.
Jordan had only been permanent chief for 15 months, assuming the post in February 2012. He was named interim chief in October 2011, when former Police Chief Anthony Batts abruptly resigned after only two years on the job.
Oakland’s previous chief, Wayne Tucker, lasted less than four years before retiring in January 2009 after clashing with the City Council.
Asked at the news conference about the high rate of turnover in the chief’s position, Schaaf said, “It’s an incredibly difficult job” but said she hopes the new permanent chief will bring “stability” to the position.
Schaaf said she “appreciates the gains” the Police Department has made under Whent’s leadership, saying Oakland’s homicide rate, despite four homicides in the past three days, is down 46 percent this year compared to the same time last year and there’s been a 39 percent decrease and shootings and homicides the last three years.
Schaaf also said Whent “did move the city closer to compliance” with the terms of the police misconduct suit settlement.