Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent speaking to the media and the community last June about his department's crime-reduction efforts. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED
Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent speaking to the media and the community last June about his department’s crime-reduction efforts. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Update, 1:15 p.m.: Declaring “Oakland is a safer city today than it was a year ago,” Mayor Jean Quan confirmed that interim Police Chief Sean Whent has been hired to lead the department. In a statement, Quan said:

As a non-nonsense chief, he has led the department’s reorganization, built a strong leadership team and strengthened police collaboration with neighborhood leaders. We’ve made significant progress in the last year in both reducing crime and completing mandated federal reforms. We have more more work to do, but Chief Whent has demonstrated he is the right person for the job.

Original post: After a year as interim chief, Sean Whent is about to be named Oakland’s police chief — and one of the department’s severest critics says it’s a good move. Mayor Jean Quan and other city officials have scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference to announce that Whent, who is 39, has been chosen following a nationwide search, according to the Oakland Tribune and other reports. Oakland attorney John Burris, a frequent critic of department policy who has represented many plaintiffs in suits against the city, called Whent “a good, solid choice.” He says Whent, who is serving alongside an overseer appointed by a federal judge, has been particularly effective in moving the department toward compliance with a court-decreed civil rights agreement. The Trib says:

Whent’s appointment is no surprise. His performance had recently been praised both by department’s federal overseer, Robert Warshaw, and Mayor Jean Quan. Whent ascended to interim chief last year during one of the most turbulent weeks in Oakland Police Department history. Within 48 hours, Chief Howard Jordan announced he was taking a medical retirement. His initial replacement, Assistant Chief Anthony Toribio, quickly stepped down to make room for Whent. Whent, who had spent several years overseeing the investigation of officer misconduct, was seen as the preferred choice at the time of the department’s federal overseers. His tenure in the Internal Affairs Division also made him unpopular with many officers. Whent got off to a rocky start as chief. He was criticized for the department’s failure to prepare for violent protests that broke out following a Saturday evening acquittal in the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Whent faced more heat when he questioned whether police could safeguard downtown businesses that had been damaged the previous night by hammer-wielding protesters. But crime started falling during his first year in office after two years in which robberies and burglaries spiked. This year, major crimes are down 13 percent. Likewise, the department has made strides in satisfying court-ordered reforms stemming from the 1999 Riders police brutality scandal. A progress report released last month by Warshaw showed that the department was closer to completing the reforms than at any point since federal oversight began 11 years ago.

Oakland attorney Burris points to Warshaw’s report on the OPD’s recent progress in complying with a negotiated court settlement of a 2003 civil rights lawsuit as evidence that Whent has already been effective:

“He has worked very well as an interim chief. He has put together a good command staff. He seems to have a good vision for the future. He has done a very good job of working with the monitor to implement the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. In my point of view, I think it’s a good choice. I didn’t think it would be wise to find someone outside the department at a time when the NSA was not completed, and there would be a significant learning curve. So this is a good sound decision for the department. “I recognize there have been some tension with the leadership of the union, who have voiced some opposition to Chief Whent along the way, but I think that’s good. There should be some tension between the chief and the union. The chief represents the entire department, not just the union, and is responsive to the city, so I think it’s a good thing there’s some tension.”

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