OAKLAND, Calif. --Oakland Mayor Jean Quan today appointed Interim Police Chief Sean Whent to be the city's permanent police chief, saying he has made "significant progress" in making the city safer and achieving court-mandated reforms.
Whent, 39, was named interim chief on May 10, 2013, at the end of a chaotic week in which former chief Howard Jordan retired for health reasons and then-Assistant Chief Anthony Toribio took over the helm for only two days.
Quan said "several dozen" candidates applied for the chief's job in a lengthy process that began last August and Whent, who has been with the department for 18 years, was one of five finalists who were interviewed for the post.
She described Whent as "a no-nonsense and very humble man" and has helped the city comply with all but a handful of reform measures that were required when it settled a police misconduct case in federal court in 2003.
Quan also said that under Whent's leadership as interim chief Oakland had a large drop in homicides in 2013 and shootings, robberies and home burglaries have all declined by more than 30 percent so far this year.
Whent, who was accompanied by his wife and three daughters, said, "Oakland is a safer city today than it was a year ago and we are a more interactive and progressive police department that we were a year ago."
He said, "The Oakland community deserves to live free of the threat of crime" and promised to use "progressive police tactics" to achieve that goal.
Whent said, "I'm encouraged by the recent reductions in crime but recognize that there's still much more work to do."
City Administrator Fred Blackwell said Whent's salary will be $226,438 a year, with additional premium pay bringing his annual total compensation to $251,113, excluding benefits and his pension.
Blackwell said he and Quan will ask the City Council to approve a four-year contract for Whent.
Quan said she wants Whent to have a contract of that length "for our continuity and for his continuity."
John Burris, who was one of the lawyers who filed a civil rights lawsuit accusing the Oakland Police Department of misconduct, said Quan's decision to name Whent as permanent chief is "a good appointment and a smart appointment."
Burris said Whent "deserves the job because he has worked closely with us in completing the reforms" that were mandated when the city settled the misconduct case in 2003.
Burris said he thinks it's good that Quan named a qualified person within the Oakland Police Department as chief, instead of an outsider, because, "We need someone who is familiar with the lay of the land and understands the department so that we can cut down on the learning curve" for complying with the remaining reforms that need to be achieved.
Whent began his career with the Oakland Police Department as a cadet in 1994 and graduated from a recruiting academy in 1996. He has worked in the patrol Division, the criminal investigations division, the support operations division, the internal affairs division and the office of inspector general.
Before Whent was named interim chief last year he was a deputy chief in charge of the bureau of risk management.
Barry Donelan, the president of the Oakland Police Officers' Association, the union that represents police officers, took a wait-and-see attitude toward Whent's appointment as permanent chief.
Donelan said, "The question is whether he is going to support the men and women who risk their lives every day to serve the community and ultimately time will tell."
Asked whether some officers might dislike Whent because he used to be in the internal affairs division, Donelan said, "We just want to see someone who will support us, whatever assignment they used to have."
Donelan said it's a good thing that Oakland's crime rate has decreased but he said, "It's still the most crime-ridden city in the state and until recently it had the fourth-highest crime rate in the nation, so it's very difficult to claim victory over crime."
Donelan also said rank-and-file officers have been impacted by what he described as "turmoil at city hall" and "the revolving door at the Police Department," as no one has lasted for long in the police chief's job in recent history.
Former chief Howard Jordan retired for health reasons in May 2013 after only 15 months as permanent chief and previous chief Anthony Batts resigned in October 2011 after only two years on the job.
Donelan also noted that Oakland will soon have its third city administrator this year, as former City Administrator Deanna Santana resigned in March and her replacement, Blackwell announced in April that he will leave
in June to take another job. The city is currently looking for a new city administrator.
In addition, Quan is up for re-election in November and faces a crowded field of challengers.