Oakland Mayor Officially Announces Resignation of Police Chief

A day after news broke that Oakland's police chief was leaving his post after 19 years in the department, Mayor Libby Schaaf on Friday made it formal: Sean Whent no longer has a job as the city's top cop.

She confirmed what also emerged Thursday night, that BART Police Chief Ben Fairow will serve as interim chief.  Reporters from the East Bay Express tweeted that Schaaf was poised to fire Whent, although Schaaf refused to specifically answer that question or any other reason for Whent's reason for leaving at a news conference Friday.

“Chief Whent’s decision to resign was a personal choice which we respect,” was all Schaaf would say.

City Councilman Larry Reid does not buy the reasoning given for Whent leaving his post.

"If that's the spin they want to put on it, so be it," Reid said.

Reid said he talked to Whent late Thursday and said the chief was upset, alluding Whent was forced out.

"He wasn't ready to leave," Reid said. "I mean this is a man who takes great pride in servicing the people of Oakland and being the head of our police department."

Whent's departure comes just weeks after Greg Suhr stepped down as police chief in San Francisco. And last fall, San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel left his department after being asked to lead Tracy's police department.

Whent's departure also comes at a time when the historically troubled Oakland department is investigating allegations that several officers had sex with an underage girl. Four officers were put on leave because of the investigation. Two of those officers have since resigned.

The Alameda County district attorney’s office still is reviewing the police department’s initial investigation of the sexual misconduct allegations, Schaaf said Friday.

Federal courts have appointed outside monitors charged with overseeing reforms at Oakland’s police department since 2003, after repeated corruption scandals in the force. Monitors have faulted the department’s management and internal investigators with failing to hold Oakland police accountable for misconduct.

Whent, who didn't attend the news conference, said he is proud to have served Oakland over the course of two decades.

“When I took this job three years ago as interim chief, I vowed to help move the department forward and make Oakland safer by forging a stronger relationship with members of this diverse community," he said in a statement. "I am proud to have done that. I know that the vast majority of the men and women who work for the Oakland Police Department share this commitment and will continue to demonstrate it with every call for service.”

On Friday, Councilman Noel Gallo said he was surprised, and guessed it might have been because of the "pressure he was under."

Late Thursday night, Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney, echoed her shock.

"I'm grateful for the chief's service and am sorry to see him leave the Oakland Police Department," she said. "I think this chief was committed to making structural changes. I think it is a loss for our city."

Gibson McElhaney said she hopes Whent's replacement "will continue the good work he has done" but she worries "this could be a setback."

The new interim chief was sued last year by the widow of the late BART detective Sgt. Thomas "Tommy" Smith Jr., who alleged that BART chiefs routinely send officers into high-risk search areas without properly trained SWAT officers. Smith was killed accidentally by a colleague during an apartment search of a robbery suspect in Dublin.

Groups such as the Anti-Police Terror Project, cheered the sudden announcement about Whent's departure.

On its Facebook page, the group wrote that this is a "victory the people should claim." 

NBC Bay Area staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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