New acting OPD Chief focused on positive change for Department

The newly appointed acting Police Chief Paul Figueroa had barely been in his new position six hours, when he appeared at a previously scheduled community meeting Wednesday night to talk about a new study by a Stanford professor analyzing Oakland's police stop procedures and racial profiling.

Acting Chief Figueroa became Oakland's third police chief in one week after Chief Sean Whent resigned, according to city officials and then Interim Chief Benson Fairow was removed by Mayor Libby Schaaf Wednesday, just five days after she had announced his appointment.

Figueroa said he was in a meeting Wednesday morning when he received the news of his new appointment.

He faced a crowd at Castlemont High School that had gathered to hear a panel discussion with Figueroa, Mayor Schaaf, and civil rights attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin, who both represented victims in a police misconduct case in 2000.

Mayor Schaaf praised Figueroa for his dedication to the racial profiling study and implementing recommended changes.

The 13-month study analyzed more than 20,000 police stops by more than 500 Oakland police officers. The Stanford researchers said the study data appeared to show a difference in the way people of different races were treated by police.

Among the findings, the researchers said that in police interactions 1 in 4 African-American males were handcuffed compared to 1 in 15 white males.

Figueroa said he was focused on the study and the community meeting Wednesday night and wanted to keep working for positive change to the Oakland Police Department.

"Tonight is one of the first steps, This is a report that has been going on for 2 years and it's a project I've been intimately involved in and I look forward to laying these out tonight and getting into how we can continue to improve as a department," Figueroa said.

Figueroa has been the department's Assistant Chief since 2013. He started as an Oakland Police cadet back in 1991, rising through the ranks.

"I'm just focused right now on getting the job done," Figueroa said Wednesday night, "For the last several years I’ve been in charge of the day-to-day operations for the department."

Civil rights attorney John Burris says Oakland's police department needs more than just a new chief at the top. Burris says the institution itself needs a complete change in procedures and culture to regain trust after the sexual misconduct investigations and scandal.

"That culture cannot be changed if these officers and their supervisors and others who were aware of this did not come forward," Burris said.

"There has to be something within the institution itself that does not have the proper checks and balances to uncover misconduct when it occurs, and the consequence of that is the chiefs and the commanding officers not holding the supervisors accountable," Burris said.

Oakland's police department has been under federal oversight for 13 years, after Burris and attorney Jim Chanin won a court agreement to implement policing reforms.

Burris said the federal judge should give the federal monitors expanded power to take control of the police department's recruiting, hiring, and training procedures.

Figueroa said he's committed to keeping the Oakland Police Department moving forward during his time as temporary the acting chief.

"Obviously there's some things that need to be addressed within the department but I can tell you the next few days are really critical for us and just really stabilizing and solidifying the day to day operations of the department," Figueroa said.

Mayor Schaaf says she's confident in Figueroa's ability to keep the department on track. Figueroa said he has not thought about whether he would apply for the permanent chief position, which Mayor Schaaf has said she'd like to fill with someone outside of the department.