The Oakland Police Department Wednesdy got its third police chief in six days and sixth in the last five years when Mayor Libby Schaaf fired Interim Chief Ben Fairow and promoted Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa to be acting chief.
Former police Chief Sean Whent suddenly resigned last Thursday night amid allegations of sexual misconduct between several Oakland police officers and the underage daughter of a police dispatcher. Schaaf hired Fairow, who had been BART’s deputy police chief, as interim chief.
Schaaf said at a news conference in her office this afternoon that she removed Fairow based on information she received about him on Monday but said state law prohibits her from releasing that information.
Schaaf said the information about Fairow “raised questions about whether he can effectively lead the Police Department of this city during this transition period.” The mayor said, “I need to be confident that our chief is 100 percent effective in making cultural changes” in the way that the department operates.
Schaaf admitted that “the process was very rapid” when she hired Fairow in the wake of Whent’s departure and said:
“I own the mistake and I’m not trying to hide.”
Schaaf said she had worked with Fairow during his 21 years with the Oakland Police Department, where he rose to the rank of captain before joining BART five years ago, and said he had “a good reputation.”
The mayor said she wants to bring in someone from outside of Oakland to serve as interim chief while she conducts a search for a permanent chief but said she won’t rush to bring in an interim chief.
Schaaf said she wants Figueroa to return to being assistant chief because “I like the current command structure” in the department.
Schaaf said she expressed her concerns to Fairow on Thursday and said he was “very professional in his understanding of the situation” when she told him today that she was firing him.
Oakland has had difficulty attracting and retaining police chief candidates in recent years.
Whent was only permanent chief for a little over two years, as he was named to the post by former Mayor Jean Quan in April 2014. He was named interim chief in May 2013, two days after former Chief Howard Jordan suddenly resigned, citing health reasons.
Former Assistant Chief Anthony Toribio replaced Jordan as interim chief but left the post after only two days.
Jordan had only been permanent chief for 15 months, assuming the post in February 2012, having previously been named interim chief in October 2011, when former Chief Anthony Batts abruptly resigned after only two years on the job.
Oakland’s previous chief, Wayne Tucker, lasted less than four years before retiring in January 2009 after clashing with the City Council.
City Councilman Larry Reid, who’s been on the council since 1997 and previously served as chief of staff under former Mayor Elihu Harris, said after Schaaf’s news conference:
“I have never experienced anything like what the city of Oakland is going through now.”
Reid said he and other council members “are trying to figure out what’s going on” but state confidentiality laws have prevented Schaaf and her staff from briefing them about everything that’s going on in the Police Department.
Reid said he’s heard the information about Fairow’s past that led Schaaf to fire him but said he’s not at liberty to disclose that information.
“If it’s true, it’s troublesome to me.”
Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, whose misconduct lawsuit against the Police Department led to a 2003 federal court settlement that mandated reforms that the department still hasn’t completely complied with, said he was “stunned” to learn about Fairow’s departure.
Referring to the turnover in the department’s leadership, Burris said, “This is musical chairs.” He added, “This is a terrible day in Oakland.”