Sex Scandal Leads To Chaos Inside Oakland's Troubled Police Department

Jun 20, 2016
Originally published on June 20, 2016 7:30 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Right now, Oakland, Calif., doesn't have a police chief. It's not for lack of trying. In fact, it's had three over the past two weeks. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports on the sex scandal which led to this chaos.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: It started in the fall of last year, when an Oakland police officer committed suicide. Since then, an 18-year-old woman told a local newsweekly that she had been sexually involved with that officer and several others in the department. Her allegations didn't stop there.

She said she had had relations with officers in other police departments around the San Francisco Bay area and that it all began when she was an underage sex worker. In the wake of those allegations, three different Oakland police chiefs have come and gone. By the time Mayor Libby Schaaf held a news conference late Friday, she was clearly livid.

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LIBBY SCHAAF: As the mayor of Oakland, I am here to run a police department, not a frat house.

GONZALES: Schaaf could barely contain her frustration as she announced the discovery of another unrelated scandal involving racist text messages which she said were shared among African-American officers. Oakland won't see another police chief anytime soon. A national search will be conducted. Meanwhile, city administrator Sabrina Landreth will be in charge because the mayor says it's time for civilian oversight of the department.

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SCHAAF: And to send a very clear message about how serious we are of not tolerating misconduct, unethical behavior, and to root out what is clearly a toxic macho culture.

GONZALES: The first chief to resign two weeks ago was Sean Whent, a popular reformer. He was let go amid reports that he had mishandled the sex scandal. His replacement, or chief number two, was Paul Fairow. He came from outside the department and was fired six days later when the mayor said she had lost confidence in him. He was replaced by Paul Figueroa. He only lasted two days before he went back to being a captain. Schaaf said Figueroa's departure had nothing to do with the texting or the sex scandals.

These are only the latest controversies for the Oakland Police Department. It has been under a federal consent decree for more than a decade following a scandal known as the Riders case in, which a group of officers brutalized African-American and Latino residents. It was that federal oversight that helped uncover the sex scandal. Civil rights attorney Jim Chanin has been fighting to reform the department.

JIM CHANIN: It looks like a horrible event, which makes you feel that the police are somewhat out of control, if not completely out of control.

GONZALES: And Chanin says it comes at a time when Oakland was showing some progress in cleaning up the department. Civilian complaints, use-of-force incidents and crime are down while arrests are up. Peter Keane teaches law at Golden Gate University and is a former San Francisco police commissioner. He says Oakland's political leaders and top police brass are committed to reforms. But in the effort to beef up the department, they've hired a lot of new officers.

PETER KEANE: The captains, lieutenants, sergeants and then certainly down into the rank-and-file, there's a long way to go in order to push that reform-mindedness down and to have it take hold there.

GONZALES: Case in point - all of the Oakland officers involved in the sex scandal are reported to have been on the force only since 2013. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.