Oakland loses 3rd police chief in 9 days, will operate under civilian control

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The Oakland Police Department will now operate under civilian control after the agency parted ways with its third police chief in nine days, Mayor Libby Schaaf announced Friday.

Acting Chief Paul Figueroa tendered his resignation to Schaaf on Friday, and the department’s command staff will now report to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, Schaaf said during a news conference Friday evening.

Figueroa was appointed to replace Interim Chief Ben Fairow on Wednesday, after Schaaf said she had received information that made her question Fairow’s ability to lead.

Fairow’s tenure as Oakland’s top cop lasted just six days. He had been appointed to replace Chief Sean Whent, who resigned in the wake of a widening sexual misconduct scandal that has ensnared more than a dozen city police officers and members of three other East Bay law enforcement agencies.

“I’m hoping to not have to fire anyone else anytime soon,” said the mayor, laughing in response to a question from a reporter.

Schaaf did not say why Figueroa resigned.

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.”

Figueroa voluntarily went on leave after resigning the chief’s post Friday, Schaaf said.

The Oakland department is currently reeling from allegations that officers were having inappropriate relationships with a teenage sex worker, possibly while she was underage.

Schaaf also said Friday that the department was close to finishing an investigation into an exchange of racist text messages between officers.

The  text message inquiry does not involve Figueroa, according to Schaaf , who said that situation was “not as widespread” as the sexual misconduct scandal.

According to Schaaf, several African American officers sent and received messages that were “wholly inappropriate and not acceptable from anyone who wears the badge of the Oakland Police Department.”

She would not name the officers or disclose their ranks, but the situation is eerily 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.

“As the mayor of Oakland I am here to run a Police Department, not a frat house. Today continues to be a day where we are sharing disturbing information with you,” said Schaaf,  adding later that she hoped to “root out what is clearly a toxic, macho, culture” within the city’s police.

The revolving door of chiefs has become the latest source of embarrassment for a department that has remained under federal oversight for 13 years and is now embroiled in a widening sex scandal.

Whent resigned on June 9, in what city officials termed a “personal choice.” But three sources with knowledge of the situation told The Times that Whent was let go over his mishandling of an investigation into the sex scandal.

Two officers have resigned and three were placed on administrative leave as a result of the sex scandal, city officials have said.

John Burris, the attorney who negotiated the 2003 settlement that placed Oakland police under federal oversight, said  he hoped all of the department’s skeletons can be revealed at one time in order to clear a path to real reform.

“It appears to be a cesspool here,” he said. “But you gotta keep working at it to drain the swamps.”

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