The Oakland, California, police department has lost its third chief in one week amid numerous high-profile misconduct scandals, including revelations that officers allegedly sent racist text messages.
On the heels of a widening controversy surrounding the alleged sexual exploitation of an underage girl by numerous officers, the Oakland mayor, Libby Schaaf, announced on Friday evening that Paul Figueroa, the acting police chief who took the position on Wednesday, was stepping down and that the city was also “on the verge of closing an investigation that centers on racist text messages sent by police officers”.
Figueroa had replaced interim police chief Ben Fairow, who Schaaf removed six days after she selected him. Fairow – whose appointment Schaaf called a “mistake” – had stepped up to replace chief Sean Whent, who abruptly left the department one week ago.
The police department in Oakland, the northern California city across the bay from San Francisco, is the latest urban law enforcement agency in the US to lose its top cop following a wave of scandals. The police chief in San Francisco resigned in May in the face of intense pressure surrounding questionable fatal shootings by officers and a national controversy involving racist and homophobic text messages.
This is not the first time Oakland has suffered from a revolving door of police chiefs. In 2013 the agency had three chiefs in just three days.
Schaaf’s disclosure of a case involving racist text messages was a significant setback for the agency following news of a widespread sexual misconduct controversy that appears to be unrelated to the new scandal.
“I am here to run a police department, not a frat house,” a visibly angry Schaaf said at a hastily planned news conference on Friday evening at Oakland city hall.
“We need to root out what is clearly a toxic, macho culture,” the mayor continued. “We are hellbent on rooting out this disgusting culture.”
Schaaf declined to provide details about the alleged racist texts, and it was unclear how Figueroa might be connected to the recent misconduct cases.
In a short statement, Figueroa said: “I cannot fulfil the functions of the acting chief of police for the city of Oakland and I am stepping aside to take leave … I am deeply sorry that I was unable to fulfil the functions of acting chief of police.”
Over the last year multiple misconduct scandals have emerged in Oakland.
One high-profile case surrounds officer Brendan O’Brien, who reportedly killed himself and left a note that launched an investigation into allegations of widespread misconduct. Oakland paper East Bay Express uncovered that three officers had allegedly had sexual relations with a teenage girl when she was underage and, according to the girl, was working as a sex worker.
A total of at least 14 Oakland officers and eight officers from neighboring law enforcement agencies reportedly took advantage of the teenager, who is now 18 years old and whose mother is a dispatcher in the department, the Express reported.
If the officers did have sexual relations with the girl when she was underage, then under state law they could be convicted of committing statutory rape and human trafficking since she was a sex worker.
On Friday Schaaf said she would not be appointing a new interim chief at this time and that command staff in the agency would instead be reporting directly to city administrator Sabrina Landreth.
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