Oakland’s Police “Frat House” Gets Blue Wall Of Silence From Mayor
June 20, 2016 (Fault Lines) — When three police chiefs resign in nine days’ time because of a “scandal,” one begins to question what’s wrong with the department creating such a turnover. Oakland, California’s police department, embattled with allegations of a sex scandal as well as exchanges of “racist text messages” now finds itself in such a quandary with acting Chief Paul Figueroa being the third top cop in over a week to lose the position.
Now Oakland’s police find themselves in the charge of City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, and Mayor Libby Schaaf adhering to a “blue wall of silence,” even as the scandals embarrass her administration.
“As the mayor of Oakland, I am here to run a police department, not a frat house,” [Mayor Libby Schaaf] said. “Today continues to be a day where we are sharing disturbing information with you.”
“I’m hoping to not have to fire anyone else anytime soon,” said the mayor, laughing in response to a question from a reporter.
The first axing was Oakland Chief Sean Whent, who apparently overlooked a sexual relationship between Officer Brendan O’Brien and an underage sex worker named Celeste Guap sometime between February and September 2015. O’Brien committed suicide in September, leaving a note implicating four other officers as having involvement with Guap during the time she and O’Brien “dated.” It could have been four, or it could have been as many as over a dozen, depending on whether you believe O’Brien or Guap.
In several interviews, Guap maintained that officers were “tricks” who she voluntarily had sex with in exchange for protection, or because she wanted to.
“I think cops are fine. They’re cute and all, but it’s like one less officer that’s gonna arrest me,” she said.
Next in line for the position of Oakland Police Chief would be Ben Fairow, a longtime officer with the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department. His tenure would last less than one week. In a city embroiled with scandals and federal oversight, one would think Oakland’s police would be on their best behavior in order to avoid national attention, even briefly. Unfortunately for Mayor Schaaf, her city would not receive that benefit. Despite this embarrassment, Mayor Schaaf displayed great restraint in her announcement of Fairow’s departure.
Schaaf would not say why Fairow was removed, or if the incident was tied to the investigation into claims that several Oakland police officers had sex with a teenage prostitute. She also declined to say if Fairow’s removal was connected to his time as an Oakland cop or his time with BART, citing privacy laws.
“As mayor, I need to have absolute confidence that the leader of this department can be 100% effective at leading cultural change based on the current allegations that we take extremely seriously,” she said during a news conference at City Hall.
With Whent and Fairow removed, Acting Chief Paul Figueroa assumed Oakland’s “top cop” status. His term of office would last three days, shorter than Whent or Fairow, and lead to a civilian leading Oakland’s law enforcement. Again, the Mayor would not disclose the rationale behind Figueroa’s decision to tender his resignation. Schaaf just accepted Figueroa’s “inability to lead” Oakland Police, and placed those with badges under civilian leadership. If you’re concerned at this point, don’t worry too much. Figueroa eventually hopes to return as a Captain instead of chief, because apologies make everything better when you’re a cop.
Acting Chief Paul Figueroa tendered his resignation to Schaaf on Friday, and the department’s command staff now will report to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, Schaaf said during a news conference Friday evening.
In a statement released Friday, Figueroa said, “I thank the city for the opportunity, and I am deeply sorry that I was unable to fulfill the functions of acting chief of police.”
Then there were the text messages. Some allegedly were for Celeste Guap’s benefit, warning the sex worker when stings would occur and she might get arrested while on the job. Others are allegedly “racist” texts between African-American Oakland PD officers, “wholly inappropriate and not acceptable from anyone who wears the badge of the Oakland Police Department.” Despite these severe allegations, charges that would eventually lead to public identification of the individuals involved if they were anyone but police, Mayor Schaaf declined to disclose much information.
She would not name the officers or disclose their ranks, but the situation is similar to a scandal that recently roiled the San Francisco Police Department, one of several that led to the resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr.
Schaaf said the investigation of the text messages would be completed within two weeks.
That Mayor Schaaf decided to place the Oakland Police Department on her own version of Double Secret Probation is bad enough. Placing the city’s law enforcement under the care and supervision of someone without a badge or experience as a cop signals severe problems and a lack of trust with the city’s law enforcement as a whole. Why, then, is Mayor Schaaf reluctant to disclose more details concerning the misconduct in Oakland’s police department? If three police chiefs in nine days isn’t enough for transparency, what will it take?
Oakland’s citizenry deserves accountability from its law enforcement. Simple apologies and civilian police chiefs aren’t going to cut it. If Mayor Schaaf wants her “frat house” rebuilt as a police department, there will need to be disclosures and full transparency on all Oakland’s investigations into the rampant police misconduct. It’s time for the good mayor to come clean.