As the luster of the “New Oakland” / ”Oakland Renaissance” / gentrification starts to dull, we see the crime — especially robberies, burglaries and daytime shootings. Some residents and politicians call for more police to control it. Mayoral candidates make adding more police a priority.

If numbers alone could control crime, how many police would we need to deter criminals? A police officer for every citizen would not be cost effective. Since we can’t afford to have police everywhere and at all times, determined criminals can evade them in a cat-and-mouse game. The police need to have community support to keep up with criminals. Police need the trust and cooperation of the community to do investigations. Yet there is a wide schism between many Oakland’s longtime residents and the police. Simply increasing police will not bridge this divide. Ironically, this divide also makes it harder to attract police to Oakland.

More police arrests and imprisonments could have unintended consequences. Too many arrests of — or even simple misunderstandings with — innocent citizens could ignite conflicts with the police and solidify community distrust. After time, this could normalize being arrested. Threat of jail would be less of a deterrent because it would be expected. Then, upon release from jail, a person would have a harder time finding a job and housing. This could further marginalize the already disenfranchised.

If the person had children before prison, those children would be also impacted. For example, they too might normalize or be less deterred by threat of jail.

Also, as police arrest more people, Oakland would need more jails. The cycle continues.

Simply adding more police does not address the dynamics of the so-called New Oakland. Police must understand that Oakland’s gentrification forced two discordant groups together. One group came to Oakland for cheap rent — and now even the “coolness.” The other group saw self-indulgence and unearned privilege that often dismissed and displaced them. Such dehumanizing allowed each group to violate the other. This might explain Oakland’s being both the Most Exciting City and #1 for robberies.

Yet even with such discordant groups, more police must consistently enforce laws. If men loitering on a public street corner are cited or detained, the man walking his dog past the city park’s “No Dogs Allowed Sign” should also be cited or detained.

More police must protect everyone equally. No one is above the law. According to an Oakland Tribune article titled “Graffiti Battle in West Oakland Has a Racial Edge,” graffiti vandals come to violate long-time West Oakland citizens by tagging homes, churches and community murals. The residents have history in West Oakland and love their home. Yet, such intruding vandals acted as if their home were the Bay Area’s red light district or a wasteland. The vandals came to West Oakland to commit the sins they would never do at home. A resident confronted one of the vandals. As if he were above Oakland’s laws, the vandal cursed and said “I do whatever the hell I want to do.”

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

16 Responses

  1. lumpkin

    Good points in this article.
    What would be some ways to heal the schism between the police and long term residents other than equal enforcement of laws?

  2. r2d2ii

    @lumpkin–there’s something known as community policing which is designed to heal the schism. There have been community groups in Oakland which have been pushing for community policing here for decades. Among them are PUEBLO and OCO. Google their websites and google “community policing.”

    The problem for Oakland is that our policy makers (Council and Mayor) do not understand community policing and have refused to implement it. Measure Y, passed by voters in 2004, created the Problem Solving Officer group which was supposed to be something like community policing. It was, and is, NOT. Measure Y was also supposed to provide Oakland with more than 800 cops. Oakland’s Council and Mayor provided this number of cops for about six months of the ten year period of Measure Y funding.

    Measure Y was the creation of current/former Mayoral/Council members and candidates Jean Quan and Libby Schaaf. Their reelections will guarantee that community policing never comes to Oakland.

  3. Brook Vanderford

    No one I know wants an over-policed Oakland. We want an adequately policed Oakland (850-900 officers). Oakland has less police per capita than any major city in the United States. I find it pretty funny that the author of this piece brought up the graffiti vandalism to prove his point. Until Oakland has a decent amount of officers, they will not be able to try and help abate crimes like vandalism. Oakland just recently made tagging a misdemeanor (before it was just a violation – like a ticket). This would help stop the tagging free for all going on in a West Oakland (and downtown, uptown and elsewhere) if we had any police free to patrol and watch for vandalism…but at this point we don’t. We tried to report a stolen vehicle the other day. We had good video of the theft and a license plate number for the thieves. It took seven hours for OPD to get here and take a report. With so few police, stolen and/or broken into cars and property crime in general (including vandalism) are low priorities when they have more serious crimes to prevent and solve.

  4. "B"

    I’ve lived in Oakland for 18 years (most of my life). i am very excited to see new business and hangout spots coming into Oaktown.
    I am not a big fan of hipsters and some of the new comers as i found them simplistic and superficial However i find them much less problematic than drug dealers of west Oakland and gangbangers of east Oakland .
    lets get real, it is no comparison between the hipster who doesn’t clean after his/her dog or tags a building and a thug that robs and kills people . one is a infraction , one is a felony, there is no comparison. violent criminals are pests who pry on the weak and vulnerable and they belong in jail.
    it don’t matter if they are new comers or old timers. lets not try to make excuses for criminals.
    Of course we need more policing in Oakland. Not only we need more cops, but we also need better and smarter cops.
    Oakland is hidden Jewel. I truly believe that. now it is getting discover by more people. as long as these people contribute positively to the community , they should be welcomed.

  5. Ivana

    I just read this article before visiting a friend who had two incidents where police really ought to have been present. After her car was robbed, the police told her she was the 67th call on their list, and that one of those before her was a homicide. To her, the answer is clear: there is not enough police in Oakland.

    The few issues that the author raised are valid, but others are hard hard to understand – what does this mean: “More police must protect everyone equally”? Who is the police not protecting now, from whom? Etc.

    What else are you proposing, other than a deep societal change that is obviously not at hand right now?

  6. R2D2II

    It’s called community policing. Something Oaklanders have been asking for for decades. Something which city hall refuses to provide.

  7. Len Raphael

    Ivana, the author did not explain “More police must protect everyone equally”” but talk to enough residents of the poor parts of town, including gentrifiers, and you will hear that for whatever the reasons (and there are several), OPD does not or cannot provide equal protection and response to what it provides in more affluent areas. The exception might be for homicides and crimes with children as victims.

  8. Libby

    I agree with the concept of community policing. But I disagree that it’s the mayor or Schaffs fault it hasn’t been implemented. How can you implement anything when you’re operating at such a deficit? There are no cops to do anything but the bare minimum. And, sorry, but there’s a lot of cops on the force right now that simply don’t do their jobs. There’s a very bad “collecting a paycheck” culture among Oakland’s force and part of it is the from the despondency at being ineffective.

  9. R2D2II

    “I disagree that it’s the mayor or Schaffs fault it hasn’t been implemented. How can you implement anything when you’re operating at such a deficit?”

    Police funding, administration and policy are the direct responsibility of the Council and Mayor. Police are not aliens from another planet but a major part of the government we elected and which we need to hold responsible.

    Funding or other resource shortfalls are, and have been, the responsibility of Quan, Schaaf and their cronies in the Mayor’s office and on the Council. Years of incompetent fiscal management, failure to set priorities, absence of a vision or a plan to realize that vision are part and parcel of the failure of government in Oakland. Schaaf and Quan have been major players in that failure in their creation of Measure Y, their failure to recognize its shortcomings, failure to take responsibility for obvious mistakes made and failure to remedy shortcomings clearly pointed out to them by members of the Oakland community over many years.

  10. Ivana

    R2D2II, interesting, at the same party, another woman said that something along the lines of community policing worked absolute wonders for her neighborhood, got them to respond very promptly to their calls, etc. etc. I wonder if it is the same thing you mean.

    Len, yes, I live in a not-so-fancy neighborhood (which I love, and I have to wonder if I am a gentrifier? who gets to define one?), and one of my best friends in Piedmont. Of all the injustices in America, I think this one has always struck me as the worst – the police working better for the rich. I actually honestly could not believe that was legal in this country!
    Having said that, I thikn the article meant something along the lines of racial divide that was not quite clear, which makes the article far less powerful than it could have been, in my opinion.

    I also don’t like that there is no alternative proposed here. I was appalled that my friend hosted endless meetings on basically making Piedmont a gated community, etc. etc. Could not help but ask: “Have you or any of yoru friends thought about volunteering in a poor neighborhood?” Bridging the divide that way? I am not a huge fan of huge police force, but believe me, in Oakland, I too wish we did not have an overburdened force, but “standard” numbers as someone here on the thread suggested. Meanwhile, I can only hope that empathy between races and classes in Oakland are bridged by those who are better off helping those who are not, any way they can.

  11. R2D2II

    “another woman said that something along the lines of community policing worked absolute wonders for her neighborhood, got them to respond very promptly to their calls, etc. etc. I wonder if it is the same thing you mean.”

    Oakland has several dozen PSOs (Problem Solving Officers) who are intended to coordinate with citizens regarding neighborhood crime problems in Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils (NCPCs).

    In some more affluent Oakland neighborhoods this system occasionally works to help resolve certain kinds of problems. In the heavily violence-ridden neighborhoods this system does not work at all. This system does not work to solve the problematical, destructive relationships between police and residents mentioned in the article on which we are commenting.

    The PSO/NCPC system is not in any way real community policing. Most Oaklanders, probably like yourself, know nothing about this system. In recent years PSOs have been changed every few months and have largely been absent from their neighborhoods because manpower is needed to deal with constant shootings elsewhere in the city. Community policing is all about having local cops who know the neighborhoods and the people who they are serving. This largely does not happen in Oakland.

    There is abundant information on this topic (community policing) available on the web. The City of Oakland website also has information on the PSO/NCPC system. Read and learn.

  12. Libby

    Thank you R2D2II. I’m not familiar with the shortfalls of Measure Y in action, though it seemed at the time just a bandaid—one that had already lost it’s stick in fact–when it was on the ballot. These issues were here before Quan and Schaff. It’s systematic and systemic. They will be here long after the current group of so-called leaders are long gone without a total upheaval and slicing of the epidemic of cronyism in ALL branches of government here.

    I have a friend that is OPD. Their job (I’m not giving even the gender) is assignments, hour allocations, which means part of it is establishing overtime quotas, who’s getting what and how they will be paid in regards to the contracts on base pay vs. overtime. I’m not adept at stating this clearly, but so I’ll try to clarify bluntly: there is an intense amount of focus on working the system in OPD to maximize pay for as few hours as possible. Movement of scheduling so the personnel are not working their given shifts, but are working someone else’s so it can be logged as double hours for covering. And then that cop works someone else’s and so on. That’s just one complete and total corruption, so deep that this is considered routine scheduling. This is one reason why the money just disappears. My friends biggest complaint is what they see and hear among the officers (of all races, from all walks of life): policing is not about serving the community, not the affluent nor the poor. Nor is it about crime fighting. It is about working the system as a cop in Oakland to personal benefit ONLY. There is nothing but disdain for the citizenry,including those that most cops in the US refer to as “citizens”; the lingo used for non-criminals and victims of crimes. That terminology doesn’t exist in OPD because the people who live here—all of us—are simply viewed as fools for choosing to live here. There is a complete and utter acceptance of the crime in Oakland by those who are employed to fight it. They have little intention of doing anything about it and “citizens” are viewed as fools for thinking anything could ever be different. My friend has worked in other police departments, one in the Bay and one on the east coast. This atmosphere is common, but they have never seen it so total and all encompassing as it is in Oakland. They say there is nothing any politician can do and you see what happens to new leaders brought in to head OPD. We cannot hang onto to any outsider and there will never be anyone from inside that we can trust to not “play the game”. We can write and read non-stop on the best way to fight crime, going back and forth from the most progressive to the most draconian, right-wing ideals forever (and we have). Does anything EVER change? Isn’t astounding how much Oakland has changed in the last 30 years in so many demographic ways and yet THIS has not changed AT ALL? The department in Oakland has no incentive or intention to truly fight crime. It’s their status quo and they hold on to it and we pay the price.

    So, yeah, I agree with you that the little bit of “community policing” is a joke. It’s all a joke from them on us.

  13. Deborah Acosta

    In February of this year, after 40 years of trying to make a difference in Oakland through both volunteer and professional efforts, I was given the opportunity to join the city of San Leandro. My position in the city gives me the opportunity to work with most departments, and to watch citizen interactions with many of its staff — including the San Leandro Police Department.

    The difference is Trust — yes, there are San Leandro residents who are very uncomfortable with all of the choices our Chief makes regarding the use of technology. However, it is my opinion based on discussions and observations with many San Leandro residents that they generally trust SLPD to serve its citizens with integrity, preserving San Leandro’s quality of life and work environments to the best of their very skilled ability. The result of this Trust is that the average citizen will call SLPD without little doubt regarding the outcome — that these men and women will respond and handle the problem to the best of their ability. And SLPD staff know that San Leandro citizens will provide them with any information they have that will assist, including detailed descriptions of suspects.

    All too often SLPD is forced to follow suspects into Oakland, where the arrest is made and the message sent — stay out of San Leandro if your intentions are criminal.

    Yes, San Leandro has an exclusionary history regarding diversity. Today, however, San Leandro has been identified as one of the most diverse cities in America, right behind Oakland. And per capita, SLPD has no more sworn officers than Oakland does. However, San Leandro’s crime rate is miniscule compared to its next door neighbor.

    Community policing — I had high hopes in the 1990’s for establishing community policing as a way of re-establishing trust between OPD and its citizens when we founded Oakland’s first NCPC in Maxwell Park. Even in the face of Sgt. Bob Valladon, then head of the Oakland Police Offficers’ Union, swearing to me that he’d “never allow his officers to become a bunch of social workers” — his view of community policing.

    Unfortunately, the opinion expressed by Libby, above, is descriptive of general opinion of OPD regarding Oakland citizens and one that I’ve heard many times from many different sources.

    How will OPD regain the trust of its citizens? Oakland — your neighbors need for you to find answers and become the strong, proud and culturally and economically vibrant city that we know you can be.

    For me, my choice has been made. During my 40 years in Oakland, I have lived from the hills to the flats, and have felt safe nowhere. My homes have been burglarized five times. I was assaulted at knife point, cut and raped at the Fruitvale BART station. I have been threatened by drug dealers whose activities threatened the safety of my children and neighborhood. I realize now that I had come to accept living in fear as “normal”. And now that I live and work in San Leandro, I realize that “normal” feels protected and safe. Yes, crime still happens — but in San Leandro, no one accepts living in fear as a standard way of life.

    Trust. How this will be accomplished, I don’t know. But the key is Trust — something Oakland has precious little of today.

  14. R2D2II

    Libby–I think your observations and comments are right-on, but I would give them some background.

    The reason for the low morale, ethical and other problems in OPD is no different from related effects throughout our government. It’s all about a lack of leadership, a lack of democratic (small “d”) values, no transparency, a profound failure of communication from elected officials and an essential divisiveness and disconnection from the reality of Oakland life among those who spend their time in city hall.

    It’s all about a self-promoting, long-standing and change-resistant culture in city hall which is deeply dysfunctional and unrealistic. The self-serving attitudes among our cops are a direct reflection of the immaturity and narcissism among our elected officials. Cops are deeply affected, as are we all, by what they see in the Mayor and in the City Council. For a cop, it’s much worse than for most of the rest of us because the problems are right in their faces every day. Cops are under-resourced, under-manned, over-exposed to danger, over-worked and over-stressed to a degree that none of the privileged elites in city hall can comprehend.

    This is not to say that everyone who works for the city of Oakland is irresponsible or disconnected. I have met all sorts of civic servants, from administrators to cops to people driving city service trucks who work hard, care deeply about Oakland, are full of hope and on-the-street knowledge and who work very hard every day to serve the public. We have a problem essentially of leadership. With a few superior leaders in elected office Oakland could be a far better, more hopeful place to live, even with all the problems we have to solve coming at us constantly.

    Hopefully more voters are getting the message about the need for change in Oakland and this will affect the outcome of next fall’s elections. Hopefully.

  15. Len Raphael

    Libby, I’d second R2 on the underlying cause of what your friend sees about OPD money maximizing behavior, or what Deborah calls mistrust. Oakland cops are not recruited and selected to be that way. They learn on the job that their only backup here are your fellow cops and your fat retirement and fat paycheck.

    OPD has not always been that way. Yes it had the same racist and red peril/terrorist paranoia that all Northern police departments had. The SLA and the Panthers didn’t help improve police attitudes.

    Looking back, the Riders Negotiated Settlement Agreement was a massive disaster here except for lining the wallets of plaintiffs, attorneys, court monitors, consultants, and police. Two dozen experienced cops were transferred to desk jobs filling out forms, taking reports that achieved little or nothing to reform abuses. Street cops learned to avoid anything that could result in a complaint unless of course you wanted to rack up OT filling out forms and sitting in court/hearings.

    I hear how the (used to be called) NSA was only a reasonable implementation of “best practices” for any police dept. Maybe so, but it got dragged out for a decade because of incompetent political leadership who cared more about appearing to be progressive than fixing and improving OPD.

    This is a much bigger more complex city than San Leandro or Richmond or Berkeley. You need leaders and administrators who know how to manage big organizations or can select people who can do the managing. For the last four decades we made some really bad choices.

    We can discuss the reasons why, much like we can discuss all the ways to reduce crime. But we need some smart independent politicians and more residents to hold those politicians’ feet to the fire.


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