Chief Whent's departure highlights changing nature of Bay Area law enforcement

The abrupt departure of Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent now means there is new leadership at all three of the Bay Area's largest cities: Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose.

The announcement that Whent would be leaving came with a promise from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

"We have tremendous work to do to rebuild trust with the community that we serve," Schaaf said, while emphasizing that Whent was not implicated in the current investigations of Oakland police officers for misconduct.

Trust, however, has been a topic of debate with the sudden change in chiefs at the three largest Bay Area police departments.

In Oakland, Whent is being replaced by Interim Chief Benson Fairow, who is taking a 6-month leave from his post as Deputy Chief of BART Police.

San Francisco's Interim Chief Toney Chaplin was plucked from the ranks after Greg Suhr stepped down in May, following a series of deadly police shootings.

And San Jose's Police Chief Eddie Garcia was sworn in just three months ago, but has already faced criticism for the handling of violent outbreaks at a June 2nd anti-Trump rally.

"This is a difficult and critical time for policing in America," said Schaaf.

Former San Francisco Police Chief Tony Ribera says turnover at the top is fairly common.

"The national average is about two-and-a-half years, so I mean, Sean has been there for three years, Greg was in San Francisco for five years, so I think to some degree it's to be expected," said Tony Ribera, an instructor at the University of San Francisco's Department of Criminal Justice.

Ribera notes, however, that law enforcement officers are under heightened scrutiny with the proliferation of portable phone and police cameras.

"It's kind of a new age and law enforcement has to get used to the fact that they're being recorded," said Ribera.

That increased transparency and accountability can mean more pressure at the top.

Some say while Whent performed well in many ways, the next police chief might need a stronger hand at the helm.

"I think he was a decent chief. He may have been a little too soft spoken, unwilling to exercise his authority and demand support, demand obedience from the rank and file," said Oakland civil rights attorney Dan Siegel.

As both cities look for a new chief, some say it's important to find a leader who can demand a culture of professionalism and discipline through the ranks.

"Someone who is not afraid of going into the community and discuss the crime problem, to go to the officers and honestly discuss the discipline issues," Ribera said.

Mayor Schaaf says as they search for Oakland's new police chief, they will be looking for candidates within the department. The mayor says Interim Chief Fairow has not decided whether he will apply.
 

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