The police department in Oakland, California is currently in what can only be called one of the biggest upheavals in recent memory. In just 8 days, three different police chiefs have stepped down from the position following the revelation of both a sex scandal and an investigation into racist text messages, according to CNN.
Mayor Libby Schaaf is in the middle of an uphill battle to transform a department that was apparently run more like a frat house than anything else. But this may be a case other police departments should watch closely because it could become an example of how to (or not to) move forward in their own districts.
In recent years, police officers across the country have come under harsh scrutiny for their sometimes deadly and often discriminatory methods. It’s gone so far that a defensive “#BlueLivesMatter” campaign was born out of the controversy and officers in Louisiana have been given even more protection from “hate crimes” under state law.
But, instead of placing police officers on a pedestal of perfection the moment they put on a badge, maybe what’s happening in Oakland is necessary on a more widespread level. Perhaps departments all across the country, maybe even the world, should be paying closer attention to this process and its end results.
“I feel that this is an appropriate time to place civilian oversight over this police department,” Schaaf said, “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.”
Now, to be fair, Oakland’s police department doesn’t appear to be going through interim top cops like tissues by choice. It’s most likely that this is happening because black marks on these cops’ records are starting to show up that were once glanced over or even ignored. And this process is surely filled with chaos as officers throughout the department drop off like flies.
And, yes, I’m perfectly aware that these officers may have families to feed and may have put their lives on the line multiple times. But they’re also involved in a scandal involving a 17-year-old sexual abuse survivor and/or a slew of racist text messages. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want someone who is involved in either of these issues being assigned with the duty of keeping my family and I safe from harm. Biases don’t disappear with a uniform and a badge.
Name a major city and you can likely name at least one instance in the past year that revealed the blue wall of silence that officers use to protect each other. In a few instances, you may have even seen some cracks building in that wall when a growing history of violence became too much for it to bare. But those moments were usually immediately followed by lackluster punishments or even rewards for the officers in question.
While this period is surely chaotic for Oakland’s residents, political leadership in the city, and many others, the optimist in me only hopes that it leads to a better police department equipped to properly manage the needs of the iconic Bay Area city.
Schaaf claims to be on a mission to root out the corruption that’s present in Oakland PD. Time will tell how deep she’ll really go and if it’ll have a lasting effect. Because, by now, more of the department may be entrenched in what she deems a “toxic, macho culture” than what she believes.
“The good men and women of the Oakland Police Department do not deserve to have their good work, their progress in making this city safer and implementing progressive reforms, marred by this scandal,” she said. “I want to assure the citizens of Oakland that we are hell-bent on rooting out this disgusting culture and holding those accountable responsible for their misdeeds.”
Let’s just hope she succeeds.
Photo Credit: Wiki Commons