Oakland Police Department scandal highlights the dangers of personal initiatives

Sercan Oktay, Staff Writer

On Sept. 7, Mayor of Oakland, Calif. Libby Schaaf announced that four officers from the Oakland Police Department (OPD) were let go while seven had been suspended pending the investigation of a sex scandal.

The events leading up to this scandal were set in motion almost a year ago when officer Brendan O’Brien detained a 17-year-old prostitute known as Celeste Guap. After detaining Guap, O’Brien chose not to file an official report and let Guap go, and the two soon became romantically involved. Guap was grateful for what O’Brien had done. “He saved me when I was 17 … instead of taking me to jail, Guap said. While O’Brien’s decision to not follow protocol may be downplayed given the fact that he was “saving” an underage prostitute, the events that followed show the devastating consequences: O’Brien introduced Guap to several other officers which led to a series of grave sexual felonies within the department. By the end of the year, 14 officers from the OPD were accused of various crimes, from exchanging confidential information for sexual favors to failing to report that a minor was romantically involved with police officers.

Schaaf claimed that the recent terminations and suspensions give “a loud and clear message that we hold our officers to nothing but the highest standards of professionalism and integrity,” but I don’t think that much will change given the already established structural conduct. All that happened within the OPD was easily preventable and shows a glaring weakness found in many institutions: room for personal initiatives.

Employees taking the initiative and following what they feel is the best course of action may be beneficial and necessary for many kinds of employment, but that’s not the case with law enforcement or other branches of state or federal work. Government institutions have intricate protocols aimed to prevent individuals from jeopardizing the collective good, but these mean nothing unless they are strictly enforced.

Individuals working in sensitive areas should not be allowed to stray from what they are required to do to follow their own impulses. While what happened in the OPD is just one example of misconduct; similar cases are found in all levels of U.S. government and around the world. Government institutions tend to be placed under less scrutiny, and this may lead to a higher rate of misconduct, such as what happened in the OPD. As the institution of the OPD stands, similar events may unfold, perhaps in even higher branches of government. In order to prevent this from happening, such sensitive places of work must be inspected more closely to ensure that all individuals are working for the collective good and not jeopardizing it by following their own impulses.

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