By Matthew Artz and Thomas Peele
Staff Writers, Bay Area News Group
OAKLAND -- Before Howard Jordan abruptly quit as police chief earlier this week, he and city leaders knew that the department's federal overseer was about to seek his ouster, this paper has learned.
Thomas Frazier, given broad powers by a federal judge to reform the department, including authority to recommend that the judge fire its chief, informed both Mayor Jean Quan and Administrator Deanna Santana that he was about to seek Jordan's removal, sources said Friday. Within hours Wednesday morning, Jordan, 47, announced that he would immediately seek a medical retirement, citing an undisclosed illness.
His immediate successor as acting chief, Anthony Toribio, kept that job until Friday morning when Quan appointed Deputy Chief Sean Whent, 38, to interim chief. Whent promoted a lieutenant and two other captains to form his immediate staff.
Sources said Jordan, knowing he would soon be out of a job, sought to leave as quickly as possible rather than be tarnished by a formal removal. Frazier would have been required to present written findings in defense of Jordan's ouster.
Jordan's sudden rush for the door set up Oakland's week of the three chiefs -- an embarrassing chain reaction, which raised fears that the embattled and understaffed police department had descended into chaos and slipped even further from the city's grasp.
"I'll tell you one thing. The thugs on the street are more organized than we are. No wonder we have a problem here," Councilman Noel Gallo said of the confusion Friday before Whent was sworn in.
Frazier's Oakland office was locked shut Friday. Jordan did not respond to phone calls.
Quan and Santana both refused to acknowledge or answer questions about Frazier's intention to oust Jordan. Quan, again on Friday, said that she was surprised by Jordan's abrupt departure. The mayor said that she and Santana consulted with Frazier regarding Whent's ascension but said "they owned the decision to appoint" him after Toribio decided he didn't want the top job and sought a voluntary demotion to the rank of captain.
Whent on Friday sought to allay concerns about the department's direction after perhaps the most tumultuous week in its history.
"I understand that the suddenness of these changes may cause speculation that the challenges we already have will be exacerbated, but in fact the opposite is true," he said.
Whent said he was dedicated to implementing a crime fighting strategy, devised in part by famed police Chief William Bratton, to reduce the city's sky-high rates of robberies, burglaries and shootings.
Whent appeared to be the man Frazier wanted in the job all along, sources said. His reputation as a reformer and tough, no nonsense investigator while at the helm of the department's troubled Internal Affairs Division, won him praise from frequent department critics, but made him unloved among many of the rank-and-file, sources said.
"He is someone I believe has integrity and competence," said Rashidah Grinage, who leads a citizen's group that presses for better community policing in the city.
Frazier has a mandate to finally get the department to satisfy a decade-old court-mandated reform effort that requires it to better investigate complaints against its own officers. Last week, he issued a report blasting department leadership for not holding accountable rogue officers or top commanders who violate department rules. He also announced that he plans to reopen several internal affairs cases in which officers were cleared of wrongdoing.
Whent's new command staff all have held top jobs in internal affairs. Capt. Paul Figueroa was named Assistant Chief and Lt. Danielle Outlaw and Capt. Dave Downing will join Eric Breshears as deputy chiefs.
Don Link, who has been active for years in community policing, feared that Whent would "be marching to Frazier's drum," and that his focus would be more on implementing court-ordered reforms than on fighting crime in a city that recorded 131 homicides last year and had the most robberies per resident in the nation.
"It's a big concern to a lot of citizens that we could be in perfect compliance with the (reforms) and still have the same crime problem we have today," he said.
Whent wouldn't say Friday if he will seek to become Oakland's fifth permanent chief in the last nine years.
Quan said she expected a quick search that would likely cost the city more than $30,000.
Sgt. Barry Donelan, who heads the police union, said its members "deserve leadership and stability" and "welcomes an extensive and speedy search for a new chief of police."
The job has long been considered one of the toughest in law enforcement given the city's crime problems, politics and the demands of a court-mandated reform effort to increase officer accountability and help the department better police itself in the wake of the Riders scandal.
The department's failure to satisfy the reforms, which were supposed to be completed in 2008, resulted last year in the city ceding unprecedented authority over the department to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who named Frazier to oversee the reform effort.
Whent joined the police force in May 1994 after working his way through then-Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay) at a Jack In The Box. He worked as a police cadet, mostly on the abandoned auto detail, until he entered the police academy in early 1996. He was promoted to sergeant in 2003 after working in criminal investigations and patrol.
He went to internal affairs in 2005, saying in a 2011 deposition that he would have preferred to stay on the street and "arrest bad guys."
In internal affairs, he said, he found that "there are certain people (in the department) that have a hard time being objective when evaluating what police officers are doing. They tend to be paternalistic. I think that's the police culture."
Whent was put in command of internal affairs in 2009 following revelations by this newspaper that the division's then-commander, Capt. Edward Poulson, had once been found to have tried to influence an internal affairs investigation of the beating of a suspect by Poulson and other officers. The man died days later from his injuries.
Then-Chief Wayne Tucker, who knew the details but still put Poulson in charge of internal affairs, resigned hours before the City Council was scheduled to mull whether to take a no-confidence vote on him.