Overseer pushes officials to speed up hiring chief in violent Calif. city

Overseer called on officials to end "fragmentary attempts to select a permanent chief" that have "consumed public resources and done little to nurture public confidence in the process"

By Will Kane
San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND — Oakland's mayor and city administrator need to stop dragging their feet and hire a new police chief or risk falling behind on reforming the department, according to a progress report released Friday by the court-appointed police overseer.

The overseer, Robert Warshaw, said the city's stop-and-go, eight-month search for a permanent chief, the sudden departure of the new city administrator and the looming mayoral election have created an atmosphere of indecision and cast doubt among the Police Department rank and file.

Warshaw called on Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Fred Blackwell to end their "fragmentary attempts to select a permanent chief" that have "consumed public resources and done little to nurture public confidence in the process."

"It is the duty of the city's executives to once and for all give permanence to the leadership structure of the organization," Warshaw wrote. "Without such executive action, the department's strides will either stagnate or regress  an intolerable circumstance."

The city expects to hire a permanent police chief in early May, said Sean Maher, a spokesman for Quan.

The hiring process has been delayed twice since August, when Quan launched a national search. The recruiter hired by the city quit in December because he said members of Quan's staff had interfered with the hiring process. A second recruiter left in March when the city learned the company didn't offer equal benefits to gay employees.

'Ham-fisted Effort'
Blackwell joined in the game of musical chairs a month after taking the administrator job, announcing that he would leave in the city in June.

Sgt. Barry Donelan, president of the city's police union, said the uncertainty in the Police Department goes deeper than the search for a chief of police.

"This ham-fisted effort of hiring a police chief is indicative of what is happening in the city," Donelan said. "If you talk to anyone in the city bureaucracy, you'll get the same sense that they're living through chaos, uncertainty and instability every single day."

Warshaw, who was appointed to be the Police Department's compliance director in February, had previously been the independent monitor appointed by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson.

But in February Henderson fired the old compliance director, Thomas Frazier, and appointed Warshaw to both roles. Warshaw's consulting firm now collects an annual salary of more than $1 million, paid for by the city.

Warshaw will grade Oakland's reform efforts, and has the ability to fire or discipline police leaders if they don't comply.

In his seven-page report, Warshaw said that he has confidence in Interim Chief Sean Whent, who has filled the post since Chief Howard Jordan abruptly left in May and has applied to be the permanent police chief.

Praise For Interim Chief
Warshaw said Whent has "competently served" and "worked well" with those seeking to reform the Police Department. Maher said Quan respects Whent, but has not made a decision on whether to hire him.

"It is no secret that Whent has been increasingly successful," Maher said. "We've had a really strong, really sustained path of compliance with the (reforms), crime has been dropping since last summer. It is readily apparent that the current command staff and the current initiatives are finding success."

Copyright 2014 the San Francisco Chronicle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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