Plagued by rapidly evolving controversies and a convoluted web of accusations, the Oakland Police Department is going through bit of a rough patch.
In a pattern akin to a game of musical chairs, the Californian city has gone through three police chiefs in nine days. Interim chief Paul Figueroa became the latest casualty on Friday when he stepped down after two days on the job, leaving the haggard department under civilian control.
Figueroa said his demotion had nothing to do with the recently surfaced scandals.
“He has gone on leave and has asked to return, as is his right, in the position of captain. I will not be appointing another acting chief,” Mayor Libby Schaaf told a news conference Friday night.
The shake up started with a sex scandal involving a number of police officers and an underage sex worker. The probe into the matter was followed by two other internal investigations regarding confidential information being shared with people outside the department and racial text messages exchanged between officers.
The inquiry led Schaaf to announce the resignation of Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent, who had served the department for 19 years. BART Deputy Police Chief Ben Fairow then became the interim chief, though his short-lived reign ended when the mayor relieved him of duties shortly after.
Following Figueroa’s departure, the mayor decided to hold off on appointing another interim head and instead put city administrator Sabrina Landreth in charge.
“This is an appropriate time to place civilian oversight over the police department and to send a clear message about how serious we are of not tolerating misconduct, unethical behavior, and to root out what is clearly a toxic and macho culture,” Schaaf said. “I want to assure the citizens of Oakland we are hell-bent on rooting out this disgusting culture and holding those accountable responsible for their misdeeds.”
She also revealed information about the “wholly inappropriate” text messages apparently sent by African-American officers. The messages depicted images of the Ku Klux Klan and showed a frequent use of the N-word.
“I am here to run a police department,” the mayor said, “not a frat house.”