OPD, 803, and Measure Y

So tomorrow, four years and twelve days after Oakland voters approved an $88 annual parcel tax to fund increased police services, the Oakland Police Department will hit an important milestone and finally reach (surpass, actually) the 803 officers voters have been paying for.

Before you get too excited, this does not mean that the promise or obligations of Measure Y have been filled. While we finally have a Problem Solving Officer (PSO) assigned to every beat, as mandated by the Measure, we have not assigned the 6 crime reduction team officers, school resource officers, or domestic violence officers that Measure Y required.

Nor does having a PSO assigned to every beat mean that every beat is actually getting the service level its supposed to. First, there’s the issue of a number of officers currently being on leave or desk duty over illegal warrants. When asked about this at the most recent Measure Y Oversight Committee meeting, OPD representatives declined to answer, saying it wasn’t something they were prepared to discuss in a public forum. Beyond that, active PSOs are still splitting time between their beat and another, because they have to share cars with other officers due to equipment shortages. When Measure Y Oversight Committee Chair Maya Dillard-Smith asked Captain Orozco if the department had an idea when there would be enough cars that each PSO could work only on their own beat, the response was a curt “No.”

Pressing further, Dillard-Smith asked “So, how is the department reconciling the very clear mandate of the legislation with the actual practice? Because, in effect, it’s not even a legal use of funds to be paying for two officers to be in one beat. It says very plain – I’m just trying to understand.” Orozco responded “I think we’ve said it, it’s because of equipment concerns. We just don’t have the vehicles to place an officer on the beat by themselves. We need to have them in a car to respond to calls, to go to that beat, working in pairs. So it comes down to an equipment issue.”

So, of the $7.7 million from Measure Y reserves that the Council approved for the augmented police recruitment program last spring, we’d spent $3.2 million as of September 30th (PDF) (most recent figures available). Was it worth it? Well, we got to 803. (It’s unclear how long this would have taken without the extra spending from the Measure Y reserve funds, as we hit 778 in July with the graduation of the 164th Academy in July, which began in January before the augmented recruitment was even proposed. The staffing projections (PDF) presented to the Council along with the request for funds said we would only be at 752 officers by that date.)

Perhaps, if we were determined to spend the Measure Y police reserves, a better use of funds might have been to buy the equipment the officers need to actually do their jobs. Or maybe, we would all have been better off just letting the money sit in an account and collect interest until we need it, because – and I don’t know how many people realize this – the taxes collected under Measure Y are not actually enough to fund all 63 officers the Measure is supposed to pay for. The plan, until the Mayor requested the money be spent on this augmented recruitment program, was to use the reserves to cover the deficit in the Measure Y account in future years. With that money gone, it’s unclear where that money is going to come from. Well, it will have to come from the General Fund, I guess, but what we’ll have to give up to cover that shortfall is yet to be seen. Our projections (PDF) show the deficit being close to (or in some years, over) a million dollars a year.

I’m happy that the department is fully staffed, I really am. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said in his State of the City speech back in January that he’d get it done, “whatever it takes.” And hey, he did it. Kudos. I don’t like the way it happened (and didn’t then either) because I think it screws us over in the long-term. I also wonder how necessary it was given that the actual police staffing by mid-year turned out to be dramatically higher than the projections presented as justification for the need to spend all the reserves.

But it’s done now, and I don’t think anyone is going to complain about having a fully staffed department. That does not mean, however, that people should assume they’re finally getting the level of service they’re paying for. The City needs to find a way to produce those cars so every PSO can actually spend their time working the beat they’re assigned to. Otherwise, what’s even the point of having them?

The next meeting of the Measure Y Oversight Committee will be held on next Monday, November 17th, at City Hall Hearing Room 1 from 6:30 to 9:00 PM. It should also be broadcast on KTOP, which you can watch on Oakland cable channel 10, or streaming over the internet. The meeting is going to feature some very detailed discussion of the Measure Y budget and funding projections, so if you’re interested in this stuff at all, it should be worth watching.

60 thoughts on “OPD, 803, and Measure Y

  1. dto510

    Do you think that spending reserve funds on recruitment was unnecessary to reach full staffing? Why was the police department underestimating the number of recruits to the Council? It kinda seems like the Measure Y money was thrown away, and that staffing isn’t all of the problem. As we all know, with more cops this year, arrests are down and overtime is up.

  2. Max Allstadt

    “Fully Staffed” according to our legislation is still way way WAY undermanned by comparison to any reasonably well policed city. I’m with Charlie Pine on the goal of 1100. We should keep looking for money everywhere we can, even in a down economy.

    BTW as far as violence prevention goes, try googling the name of the asshole who got tackled and busted by the security guard at Koreana the other night, after a cohort shot the guard in the foot. You’ll find his name in a Trib article about the wonderful youth program he was involved in five years ago. Oops. Epic fail.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Well, we would have eventually reached full staffing without spending the reserves, the question is how long it would have taken. I would imagine, given that we ended up at 778 in July following the graduation of an academy that started in January, well before the Council approved funding augmented recruitment plan in March, that it would have happened a lot more quickly than the Mayor and OPD were claiming it would without the funds. At the time, staffing projections showed on 752 officers following the completion of that Academy. As late as May, when the Academy was halfway done, staffing projections said that we’d be at only 761 once it was complete.

    As for why the projections provided by OPD turned out to be inaccurate, I have no idea. I know it’s tempting to assume intentional misdirection, but I think the most likely scenario is that they were just wrong. Why, I don’t know. But I do know that this is a constant problem with OPD statements at public meetings. They’ll say one thing one meeting, then something completely different and total inconsistent with the previous response when asked the exact same question at another.

    I do think it was a poor use of the reserve money, for the reasons I explained in the post. We spent money that was supposed to cover the cost of these officers in future years – now, where’s that money going to come from? It’s not like the General Fund has a surplus. Furthermore, even at full staffing, we aren’t getting a level of service consistent with what we were promised with those staffing levels. The positions Measure Y was supposed to fund are still not filled, and those that are filled – the PSO positions – aren’t being used as promised. Instead of being entirely devoted to one beat, they’re forced to split time between beats because we aren’t providing the necessary equipment.

    I guess the point I was trying to make that we shouldn’t be satisfied that staffing has reached the proscribed level when we aren’t getting the service that level is supposed to provide.

  4. David

    “We just don’t have the vehicles to place an officer on the beat by themselves. We need to have them in a car to respond to calls, to go to that beat, working in pairs. So it comes down to an equipment issue.”

    Let’s get one of those officers on a bike! I don’t see how having a PSO tethered to a shared car in an adjacent beat is preferable to having the officer on a bike or on foot in his or her own beat. I’d love to see the PSOs actually walking around their beats so that they can actually make eye contact with some of the residents in a context that doesn’t involve responding to a call or pulling over a “suspicious” vehicle.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Max -

    I’d like to see more officers as well, but I think people have a tendency to overestimate the relationship of police staffing and the crime rate. It’s good to have more resources, but it’s also important to use the resources you have well.

    I mean, in 2003, when the total authorized force was only 739 officers, we had 5,583 Part I violent crimes recorded for the entire year. (FYI, for those who care about these things, the annualized unemployment rate for 2003 was lower than our current unemployment rate.) In 2007, 7,900 Part I violent crimes. That’s more than a 40% increase in violent crime! As of November 12, 2008 (xls), we were at 7,031 (versus 6,675 at the same date last year).

    Staffing levels may be a problem, but it’s definitely not the only problem. The crime rate is absolutely unacceptable, and it’s dramatically higher than it was only a few years ago when we had fewer officers.

    David –

    Perhaps this exchange from the October 20 Measure Y Oversight Committee meeting will address your concern. Or perhaps it won’t answer the question at all.

    Maya Dillard-Smith: So, do the PSOs really need cars to do their job?

    Captain Orozco: Oh, absolutely.

    Maya Dillard-Smith: Can they use the bicycles?

    Captain Orozco: Oh, We use a combination of all that. I can tell you on 23x, Officer Sean Festag has used motorcycles. We have the dirt bikes that he uses out there. He stays a lot on his beat, but there are times we need to double them up and work specifically on an issue. I have a big prostitution problem on 23x, and at times it needs the help of an additional officer to work on that problem. So pairing him with the 20x officer, we can address these types of issues.

    This is another example of what I was talking about before about the internal inconsistency of OPD’s public statements. Two minutes previous to this, we were told that PSOs have to double up beats because of equipment issues. Now we’re told that it’s because they need extra hands on certain beats. Which is it? Who knows?

  6. David

    I would guess that officers just prefer to ride around in comfy cars than on bikes, and prefer to have company while they do it. All these other answers may be more rationalizations than explanations. It’s understandable that officers would prefer cars to bikes or feet, but if we have a shortage of cars, and if cars are expensive in terms of fuel and upkeep, and if patrolling by car is no more effective than patrolling by foot or bike (the studies I’ve read about suggest that foot patrol is just as good if not better), then giving officers some monetary incentive to patrol on bicycles or on foot seems like a no-brainer, at least in the flatter parts of Oakland.

    That might take some initiative or creativity or leadership at City Hall or among the top ranks of the OPD, however, so I won’t get my hopes up.

  7. dingo

    Hey, there are a lot of reasons to pair up officers. Morale for one. Do you enjoy workign by yourselves to address community issues? All by yourself?

    There is more capability and resourcefulness in having more than one person work on a problem. I am sure you all know the concept of “teamwork.”

    Police are not automatons whatever you might think. Not robots. Also the newbie officers are being trained up still so then it is good for them to work in pairs part of the time IMO.

    Yes, OPD is still understaffed and should be at 1,100 not the bare minimum that some ballot measure specifies (803).

    The problem is still that we have a LAME DUCK CHIEF OF POLICE Wayne Tucker who should resign. We also have DETECTIVES WHO PROTECT CRIMINALS such as Longmire protected BEY IV and all those other BLACK MUSLIM CREEPS. Not to mention Longmire’s friends in OPD who then protected *him*.

    Until there is justice for Chauncy Bailey, there will be that much less justice on Oakland streets.

    Also, we need a few more jobs for people. Maybe legalizing prostitution and limiting it to brothels would be a good start. (regulated vs unregulated… you know, like wall street, except less of a con, since there is some tangible “investment” in a “service.”)

  8. MarleenLee

    While I’m happy the police force is finally at 803, I too am not happy about the way it happened. When Dellums said, “whatever it takes,” he meant it, and that included breaking the law. Measure Y is a law, and it specifically states that the money can only be used for certain things. “Hiring and maintaining” Measure Y officers is the main component of the police portion; there is also a $500,000 annual allowance for “training and equipment.” (So the City could not have spent as much money on new police cars even if it wanted to). Generalized advertising and recruitment for non-Measure Y officers is clearly not allowed, and this point was raised very clearly at the March 4, 2008 meeting where the City Council ultimately voted to approve the $7.7 million. While some of the positions filled were PSO positions, those positions were filled by veteran officers, not brand new officers that just graduated from the academy. Therefore, it was completely against the law to use Measure Y money to pay for recruitment and training of officers who are now being deployed to patrol. This was a straight-up money grab because Measure Y had the funds, and the general fund did not. The ends do not justify the means. We need to respect the rule of law, or else we will be left with chaos. I am suing the City over the $7.7 million issue, as well as over numerous other abuses of Measure Y money too numerous to mention, in the interest of holding the City accountable. We shall see….

  9. V Smoothe Post author

    dingo, sure, people can name lots of reasons to pair up officers, but the fact remains that Oakland voters specifically approved a tax that promised them one Problem Solving Officer in every single beat that would work specifically on their neighborhood issues. Not Problem Solving Officers assigned to their beat but working in a different beat due to equipment shortages or any other reason. That is what they were promised, this is what we’re paying for, and it’s not something we’re getting.

  10. V Smoothe Post author

    Oh, and just to be clear. Problem Solving Officers are not supposed to patrol in the traditional sense. They’re supposed to work on addressing persistent problems in their beats. You can view the PSO job description here (PDF).

  11. Navigator

    The fact remains that you can drive for hours in all parts of Oakland and NEVER see a cop. If anyone wants to see an Oakland police cruiser your best chance is around Le Cheval in Old Oakland during lunch time. The patrol range for Oakland cops seems to be within a ten block radius of Old Oakland restaurants and of Oakland Police Headquarters on 7th Street. Other than that, you can drive around Rockridge, Montclair, Temescal, San Antonio, Fruitvale etc., for hours without ever seeing a cop. Where are they? Where is our expensive invisible police force?

  12. ConcernedOakFF

    Navigator –

    I hate to keep challenging you, but you are posting incorrect information about the police department, and helping to spread a falsely negative image. Honestly, I think you have a personal issue with the Oakland Police Department, and if you do, there are avenues to voice your complaints. I will post the number for citizen concerns at the end of the posting for you so that maybe you can resolve your issues through proper channels.

    On your posting, I am not sure that you are paying a ton of attention to where the police actually are. I constantly see Patrol Cars in the areas you mention, especially along East 14th (international). There are a few less in Montclair (for obvious reasons), but Temescal, Fruitvale and Rockridge are saturated with cops. In Rockridge there are foot patrols and bike patrols in the summer as well as in areas of Fruitvale. There is a police substation right next to Lucky’s in Fruitvale, and there are usually officers doing paper work there as well.

    The reason there may be less Patrol Cars in the nicer areas is simple: there are more calls than there are Officers to handle them. This then pulls them down from the hills to the flats in order to handle the calls. Literally at times, there are more than twice the number of calls than there are people, causing the calls to be “re-stacked” or put off for when they can handle them. They are prioritized, with property crimes and citizen complaints (dogs barking, parties etc) being handled much later than crimes that are in progress and violent crimes.

    I think that the Police Department is very poor at explaining how they work. Many people do not realize that every arrest is hours of paperwork, taking them off of the street; every contact requires written evidence, every time they draw a weapon requires a form to be filled out. They even have to get permission from a Supervisor to arrest somebody on drug charges. Yeah, really. Just imagine how long a violent crime or an arrest that they have to actually scuffle with takes to write up!

    They do not have time to just hang out and eat at restaurants as you allege, those that you see are most likely investigators or work in Admin, and so do not work the same schedule or have the same duties as Patrol Officers. But people gotta eat too, often interrupted by calls

    We, as people of this city need to give the Officers themselves a break and support them in their efforts, and direct the blame where it lies: the Administration of the Police Department and the City Administration.

    For complaints:


    or call the Citizen Police Review Board (510) 238-3159

  13. Max Allstadt

    FF -

    I think Nav’s exaggerating a bit for sure.

    As far as operations go, can we leap back for a bit? On another post I asked about why we don’t have walking cops or permanent beat assignments. V mentioned that the OPD is actually empowered by their contract to deploy in a particular way that they prefer. Is it typical for a PD or FD contract to weaken the ability of the council and the mayor to issue strategic orders to the force or it’s leadership? Is it a good idea to mandate that kind of autonomy? Or did the city sign a bad deal? How do other places deal with the chain of command above the Chief?

  14. V Smoothe Post author

    Max –

    It isn’t that the Police Chief can’t deploy officers the way he wants in terms of scheduling and such – we won that right in an arbitration last year. I was talking about something different – that beat patrol officers get to pick their beats annually, rather than being assigned permanently to one by the department. In any case, the Chief, as a result of last year’s arbitration, currently has more power over operations than anytime in recent memory. Getting our current contract was a two-year battle, and I honestly don’t think we could have hoped to come out any better than we did.

    I know I have the arbitrator’s report somewhere, but I can’t seem to locate it right now. If I find it, I’ll upload it and post the link. For now, here’s the City’s press release on the agreement.

  15. len raphael

    v: on the pso job description. that explains why opd could order the north oakland pso’s to stop making arrests. (and that anecdotally was why most of the long time pso’s requested a transfer out).

    nav: opd has been making a big quality of life violations push on international blvd for several months. but what’s your definition of temescal getting cop “saturated”? out of my 1/2 hour morning and late evening random walks in temescal, if i see one cop every two months, that’s high occurrence here.

  16. Navigator

    Len, I also rarely see a cop around Temescal, Rockridge, Piedmont Ave, and even on the avenues around San Antonio and Fruitvale.

    OakfFF, I appreciate your vehement defense of the Oakland Police Department. I understand that it’s a tough job. Also, I have no personal beef with the Department. I just honestly think that Oakland isn’t getting what they pay for in police services. Considering the relatively compact high violence areas of the city, I think even with a force of 800 officers there should be much more visibility around town. I think the problem lies in the fact that out of this force of over 800 officers a small percentage are actually patrol officers. We need to pull some of these guys off of their cushy desk jobs, fill those positions with civilians, and get this force out patrolling Oakland’s streets. I really feel that there is too many plum cushy jobs, at the expense of patrol officers. I think this explains that at one time Oakland had only 39 officers patrolling a city of over 400,000 residents. Keep in mind that we are talking about 39 officers out of a force of 700 at the time. I realize that we are talking about three shifts over 24 hours. Still if you multiply 39 by 3 that comes out to 117 patrol officers out of a force of nearly 700. Even taking vacation and sick leave coverage into consideration you can’t explain 117 patrol officers out of a force of 700. This is outrageous and speaks volumes about how Oakland Police Officers are deployed. Get off those desks and out on the streets!

  17. ConcernedOakFF

    Nav –

    I just wanted to correct what I was perceiving as unduly negative info, that’s all. I want to make it clear: I only defend them when they are right. I defend them from the point of view that I see working with them every day I go to work. I see what they have to work with, and how they try to “make it work” when they have so little to work with.

    They are most certainly NOT always in the right. Then again, who is?

    I am not 100% sure what the exact positions at headquarters are. I am not sure *exactly* what their desk positions are, but maybe I can give you some idea.

    They have to have people in training, with fireams, hand to hand combat etc that they have to keep legally current with. This takes staff. I am guessing about 10 or so.

    They have to have investigators from minor property crimes to murders. This is probably at least 80 people.

    They have to have people in narcotics and vice. Most of them are part time now-a-days, but I belive that is about 15-20 people.

    They have traffic and enforcement divisions for liquor stores, banks, pawn shops, entertainment venues etc. I am guessing that is about 80 people, including the Traffic Officers (motor etc).

    The numbers of command staff I am unsure about, but there are only Lt’s and Sargents on the streets in patrol functions. I believe that between downtown and eastmont, there are about 30 command level positions.

    As far as patrol, I believe that about 400+ officers are assigned to patrol. That covers the 47 (?) beats over 15 (?) staggered shifts (5 per day, three per week), people on vacation, off sick, at court, at training, PSO’s, K9, Arrest Vans etc.

    I have heard that at any one time, 100+ officers are off due to injuries, sickness, vacation, military leave etc.

    I am unsure of the exact staffing level of the airport.

    They also have Officers assigned to the Port of Oakland, Helicopter, and other various special assignments.

    Maybe someone else on here has better figures? Mine are 100% based on talking to friends that work there, rather than a true number BTW…

  18. JB

    Navigator: Why do you assume that police officers work 7 days a week? With that kind of unthinking assumption, it is no wonder that you reach bizarre conclusions. The patrol division is divided into three areas. Each area fields seven separate shifts. The days off rotate, so there is an “A” squad and “B” squad who relieve one another. There are, therefore, 42 line-ups (3x7x2). To use your math, there would be 39x7x2=546 officers in patrol. Unfortunately, there are only about 600 full-fledged officers in the entire department (plus 130 sergeants, 30 lieutenants, etc.). The number of officers actually assigned to patrol is about to increase by 69 (38 officers from the 165th Academy and 31 officers from the Santa Clara County academy, who will be going through field training), and is in any case always in flux. One reason for fewer officers in patrol is the Measure Y mandate that there be 57 Problem Solving Officers. Another is the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, which has come to consume a really incredible number of officer-hours in its quixotic quest for perfect auditability. Add to that OakFF’s astute comments about the work involved in even a trivial arrest: first, the paperwork (and a time-consuming use-of-force investigation if the suspect was, e.g., tackled to the ground), then a supervisor must come to the scene of the arrest, then a transport to North County Jail, a likely refusal on often bogus medical grounds, a two to five hour stint at Highland Hospital for medical clearance, then a transport to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. This is part of the reason that, despite having more officers now than ever before, arrests have plummeted during Chief Tucker’s tenure.

  19. JB

    OPD suffers from a lack of transparency when it comes to staffing, but on its website are the annual management reports from 2007. These reports, though outdated, provide manpower numbers for all of the different units. One of the un-ignorable issues is that OPD, over the past four years, has come to focus more on compliance than crime. Look no further than the fact that the Internal Affairs Division has nearly the same staff as the combined forces of the Robbery, Felony Assault, and Theft Sections of the Criminal Investigations Division. Under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement and its ever-present influence on staffing, it is more important to investigate the 1500 complaints received every year than to investigate the 8000 violent crimes committed against the citizens of Oakland.

  20. Max Allstadt

    How long are we bound by the settlement? What happens if we ignore it? Is there an immediate consequence of are we just back in court? How much room is there to quietly shirk some of the most debilitating portions of the settlement? All this for four abusive officers?

  21. V Smoothe Post author

    At the moment, it is unclear how long we will have to abide by the NSA. Originally, it was only supposed to last until January 2008. However, after five years, the department had failed to implement the mandated reforms, and the agreement was extended until January 2010, again, depending on whether or not the department successful completes the NSA’s objectives. In their most recent report, the independent monitoring team did not seem optimistic about the Department’s ability to meet this deadline, and it is likely that we will end up with another extension.

    You can read the most recent status report here (PDF).

  22. Robert

    JB, I am not sure how you got your numbers, but the total of 546 does not seem to make sense. I am not saying you are wrong, it could be the way OPD actually organizes. However, it is quite possible to fully staff a 24/7 operation with 4 full shifts. It works out to be 84 hours on the job every 2 weeks. A four shift rotation has the advantage in keeping everyone on a reasonably fixed work schedule, so people do not have to deal with the sleep problems inherent with rotating shifts. But regardless of whether they use a four shift rotation, or something more complicated, it is the same number of hours worked, so the same number of patrol officers required.

    If there are 47 beats, and the intent is to have an officer for every beat, then the four shifts required for coverage would be about 200. Allowing 20% for vacation, sick, etc, and another 20% for management (sargents and lieutenants) that brings the required number of staff in the patrol branch to about 290. I think that the actual patrol division staffing is about 350, which is not all that far off from my estimate.

    As to whether IAD is overstaffed, I can only think of the recent reports about police lying in order to get warrants. OPD really does not seem to get the point that it has to end abuses.

  23. JB

    Robert: I guess my point was that there are facts and figures, and then there are assumptions and speculations. I was poking fun at the idea of doing a simple mathematical exercise and arriving at the number of officers currently assigned to patrol. It makes no sense to just guess about the numbers. As a matter of fact, the Patrol Division currently has seven shifts (eight, if you count the so-called Field Training Teams). There are 35 beats. (These are sub-divided into Community Policing Beats, of which there are 57 — hence the 57 PSO’s.) Currently there are far more people assigned to the Patrol Division than normal. This is in order to accommodate the field training of new officers. All of the Crime Reduction Teams have been disbanded and are working in Patrol. Two of the three Motor squads have been disbanded and are working in Patrol. I find it bizarre that people on this blog, who otherwise seem fairly realistic and pragmatic, are willing to countenance total guesswork and speculation when it comes to their police department. Part of this, I’m sure, has to do with the lack of transparency. Hence my previous post.

  24. We Fight Blight

    Although this is strictly based on limited observations, we have noticed with the Police Department organizing into three major geographic areas, there seems to be a much more visible presence of police officers in North Oakland (Temescal, Rockridge, North Oakland) and along the Shattuck Avenue corridor from Uptown to Temescal. There also seems to be many more quality of life stops and arrests in North Oakland. We understand that one North Oakland Crime Prevention Council has noticed fewer reports to its hot-line, though it is unclear whether that trend has been reconciled with actual crime statistics.

    While there are questions as to whether the Measure Y money was used properly or not in hiring more police officers, we are certainly happy to see the City finally reaching 803. But that is not enough. We continue to hear Mayor Dellums and others pontificate that we cannot arrest our way out of the crime problem. Until we get Mr. Dellums and other City Councilmembers to take seriously the need to increase the police force to 1100 without additional parcel taxes we will not see sustained decreases in the amount of violent crime.

    We also find it troubling that Dellums and others, such as Councilwoman Jane Brunner, are quick to seek additional parcel taxes as a way to increase the police force. It is interesting that in good times, when the City was flush with transfer taxes and other revenue sources, we were told that there was simply not enough money to support additional police beyond what Measure Y provided for. Yet, when there is a budget deficit of $50 million, the Mayor and the City Council can cut enough fat and trim enough positions to make up the revenue shortfall. It’s called priorities. The Mayor and City Council simply want to continue funding their pet programs to the detriment of the police and public safety. It goes back to this liberal notion that we cannot arrest our way of our crime problem. While it is true that there will always be crime, with a more visible police presence we can cut the crime rate by deterring crime before it happens. I wonder what downtown Oakland would actually look like if we had a large number of Police foot patrols. The perception of a safer and cleaner downtown (cleaner because more police might deter littering after they start writing tickets for litterers) might actually attract even more businesses and even more patrons.

    On another point, we all can help ourselves by addressing the issue of blight which is interconnected and related to crime. When you see blight, report it to the Public Works Call Center–510-238-3381. The thresholds for actionable blight in Oakland are fairly low. If every third person were to report blight, we might clean up this City and make it more attractive to investors and send a signal to criminals that we actually care about the City and are willing to enforce minimum standards.

  25. Navigator

    JB, you seem very knowledgeable regarding the number of officers in the Oakland Police Department. Could you please tells us exactly how many of the current 835 officers are patrol officers?

    Also, the idea of the police policing the police is ridiculous. “Internal Affairs” should be handled by a private independent entity. The Internal Affair cops, along with the other cops doing desk work and shuffling paper, should be on the street protecting the citizens of Oakland. How many years do you need in the Department to get a plum job in Internal Affairs?

    Also, I agree with WFB regarding the blight in downtown Oakland. The litter and graffiti are a symptom of the neglect by this Police Department. All you have to do is drive down Oakland’s “Main Street” from 49th & Broadway all the way to 12th & Broadway to notice the blight. Near Oakland Tech, in Jane Bruner’s district, there’s a building at 4220 Broadway which I have complained about for over one year, which is still full of graffiti. The former Dave’s Coffee building next to Tech is regularly blighted. A vacant car dealership just down the street is another disgrace. As we head down Broadway, we can see graffiti on vacant car dealerships, garbage containers, traffic signs, mail boxes, bus benches, traffic modulation boxes, etc. This blight continues all the way to the filthy litter strewn bus stops at 14th & Broadway, 13th & Broadway, and 12th & Broadway, in Mrs. Nadel’s District.

    All we get is talk about “Quality of life crimes” while the vandals continue trashing Oakland with impunity. Santa Rosa just arrested fifteen vandals and charged most of them with felony vandalism for defacing over 100 businesses. What has the OPD done to address the blight right in front of their noses? The Oakland Police department is able to mobilize unlimited resources for a “right to life demonstration ” through the heart of downtown Oakland. I remember seeing a motorcycle cop on literally every intersection in downtown Oakland during that march. There were no streets closed, the marchers were on the sidewalk heading down Broadway and there was a cop on every corner. Also, when ever a commercial is shot downtown, the cops seem to be made available in large quantities.

    However, when it comes to enforcing quality of life crimes in downtown Oakland, they can only be seen near Le Cheval having lunch. Meanwhile, the vandals rule Oakland’s Main Street. They have time to deface entire large buildings. They have time to go on top of roofs and vandalize at will. The Oakland Police department is an incompetent failure as evident by the blight and neglect they allow to occur mere blocks from their headquarters.

  26. Max Allstadt


    Graffiti seems like a rather minor issue in Oakland’s morass of problems. As for how the graffiti artists manage to deface entire large buildings or access roofs, do a little research on youtube. A well planned mission usually happens pretty fast. It sometimes involves stencils, stamps or other aids to speed.

    As for how they access roofs, I don’t do graffiti, but I’ve always liked roofs in cities. You’d be amazed how easy it is to get on a roof. If you know a tenant or an office worker, it’s super easy. If you’re young and can climb, it’s fun and easy. When you consider the amount of territory in this city, I think it’s pretty obvious that our graffiti problem is about culture, about lack of density, and about our vacancy problem downtown.

    If you think even five thousand cops could solve our graffiti problem by patrolling, I suggest you go up to Indian Rock in Berkeley on a clear afternoon and get a grip on just how unbe-fucking-lievably huge our city is. Force cannot defeat culture on a scale like this. Wishes for more force are a manifestation of the American delusion of omnipotence. There are big tags on buildings all over NYC, and the last time I was there I saw more cops in a ten block walk than I see in Oakland in a week.

    The people who put large tags on large buildings are hardcore, and hard to catch. They’re part of a subculture that is somewhere between a hobby and a calling. They’re determined and resourceful. The people who put smaller tags at street level only need a few seconds alone. Good luck removing that opportunity with more policing. Santa Rosa had tags before this latest bust, and they’ll still have them next week.

    As much as graffiti infuriates you, it’s not something that has much to do with cops. In NYC they solve the street level graffiti by having BIDs that paint over tags as fast as they pop up. Frustrated taggers look elsewhere. As for the tops of buildings, and larger tags, that’s been a part of urban american life since the 80′s. You’d have to destroy a strong and silent subculture to stop that. It just isn’t going to happen.

  27. Patrick

    The ultimate frustration is the city’s inability or unwillingness to even attempt cleaning up the grafitti. Leaving it with little response sends the wrong message (more effective than any billboard) to not only the taggers, but to the citizens, and to potential citizens, developers and businesses.

    With the passage of OO, perhaps a “Kids Against Graffiti” program is in order. It’s perfect: a group activity that builds self esteem and pride, while providing visible evidence of a job well done. A projected $16.5 million dollars would buy a lot of paint.

  28. ConcernedOakFF

    Nav –

    Internal Affairs is probably one of the toughest assignments of a Police Officer’s Career. They are disliked by the Cops and the people that are complaining about the cops. This is NOT a “cushy” job. Nobody really wants to be a IA cop.

    Do you really want a private company doing criminal investigations? On very serious issues such as police involved shootings, the DA investigators are also involved, so that there is no chance for the public to think that OPD is protecting OPD. There is always a thrid party.

    The IA/NSA department in Oakland is really set up to deal with all of the BS complaints that people make that an officer was rude, or shouldn’t have arrested their “baby” etc. I have LITERALLY seen people try to get a cop to go hands on with them just to be able to make a complaint and/or lawsuit. You wouldn’t believe the stories if I told them. The BS these guys and gals go through….it is really unbelievable at times.

    What/who are these paper shuffling cops that you keep mentioning? Who are they and where do you think they keep them? And other than sitting and eating at Le Cheval as you keep mentioning (why you are obsessed with this place I don’t understand, totally overrated food IMHO) , what exactly are they responsible for? OR…are you just assuming what is going on…incorrectly? I get the impression that you really think that there are hundreds of cops just sitting around playing paper football and looking at youtube videos, hidden away from public view, only coming out to eat at Le Cheval. Cmon…really?

    As far as protests, they usually have permits from the city prior to the event, and so the department can deploy resources (often overtime) to create a safe and orderly march.

    Also, commercials are scheduled events with permits as well. In addition, they people shooting the commercial or film may be paying for the Officers on an overtime basis.

  29. V Smoothe Post author

    People who want to learn more about the way the Police Department functions might be interested to learn about the Citizen Police Academy that OPD holds three times per year. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but the scheduling has never worked out for me. Hopefully it will someday.

    Anyway, the class meets for fourteen weeks, with each week devoted to one aspect of the police department. The sessions covered include: OPD organization, community policing, patrol functions, special operations, arrest laws, search and seizure, internal affairs, nuisance abatement, use of force, vehicle pursuits, patrol tactics, neighborhood watch, criminal investigation, tactical communication, traffic enforcement, dispute resolution, homicide, personnel and training, and narcotics.

    The current class ends November 22nd. When applications for the next session are up, I’ll post about it here.

  30. Navigator

    Max, graffiti denigrates the quality of life of MOST people. This isn’t art. This is something imposed on me and many other people because some self-centered vandal places a great deal of importance on defacing public and private property. I’ve traveled around the Country to most major cities in the United States. I can tell you that downtown Chicago for example is immaculate. I can tell you that you’d be hard pressed to find graffiti in downtown DC. Boston does a good job downtown. New York has a problem around midtown near the Lincoln Tunnel, but many of the main thoroughfares like 5th Avenue, Madison Avenue, Broadway, etc, are kept up very well.
    Downtown Oakland by comparison is a disgrace. You see the neglect everywhere. Broadway, Oakland’s “Main Street” is an embarrassment.

    How is Oakland going to compete with cities which care about their appearance. Walnut Creek is very well kept and they’ve cleaned Oakland’s retail clock. Do you think that a city of 60,000 residents deserves all of that retail? Much of that retail should be in Oakland. Instead, because Oakland is so inept, we have a city of 60,000 residents with the type and amount of retail we might see on Michigan Avenue in Chicago or Union Square in San Francisco. That retail should be in a major city like Oakland which is centrally located and linked to the entire region via many BART stations. Instead we have people from the Oakland hills getting in their cars and driving 12 miles to Walnut Creek.

    But you know what, Walnut Creek deserves it. They know how to provide their citizens and regional shoppers with a clean and pleasant environment. Oakland on the other hand, knows how to wail in mediocrity and neglect. As long as Oakland and Oaklanders continue thinking of graffiti and litter as “cultural” musings, then Oakland will continue to be passed over by the retail and business community.

  31. Max Allstadt


    I too resent it when people impose harmful and self centered art on me. For some reason, nine times out of ten, that art says “clear channel” underneath it. As long as expensive-free-speech is used to fill our world with bullshit, you can expect same people to try do the same with free-illegal-speech. The important difference between tags and billboards is not legality. It is intent. One seeks to persuade and coerce, the other seeks attention as an end unto itself. Tough call as to which is worse.

    Chicago, Boston, Manhattan, and Downtown DC are much richer and much denser. They’re also regional capitals, and the biggest urban centers for at least a hundred miles in any direction. If you look at Downtown Brooklyn, or Newark, you’re still looking at plenty of graffiti in places that are richer and denser than DTO. The only way to win seems to make us filthy rich and enormous.

  32. len raphael

    WFB, as much as i share your goal of 1100 cops and your point about how the cc and mayor delivered savings when forced to; it’s a waste of effort fighting for that level of opd staffing at this point in the economic cycle. get controls and budget goals in place so that in 3 to 7 years when tax revenues go up, the cc doesn’t go back to bloated social programming and rubber stamping union contracts.

    demanding better organization and some spending changes at the margin, yes.

    btw, i was wrong about the non-existent opd presence in temescal: this morning i was pulled over and ticketed one block from my home for not having a seatbelt. today is national seatbelt awareness day…..

  33. Navigator

    Max, with all due respect, this is something which could be taken care of with a little care, a little organization, and a little pride. On a National level I don’t think you can consider Oakland a poor city. There is more poverty in Chicago, parts of New York, DC, Saint Louis, Detroit etc. Oakland has well-to-do neighborhoods like Crocker Highlands, Piedmont Ave. Haddon Hill, Adams Point, Lake Shore, etc. within a one mile radius of downtown.

    The problem with Oakland is that these city departments show no initiative. They work on a complaint only basis. How many times do you think these public works graffiti abatement crews drive down Broadway and see the same graffiti covered traffic sign day after day, week after week, month after month? They don’t care. They would rather spend their energy finding spots to hide out from work rather than taking pride in their city and in their work. There’s a great hiding spot under the 880 freeway near the Oakland Fire Department Training Center. Oakland is a dysfunctional city with no leadership. Oakland accepts mediocrity. If I were mayor every employee would be held accountable and would be held to the highest standards.

    Also, do Ron Dellums and our City Council representatives ever drive around downtown Oakland and take note of the conditions on Broadway and other major thoroughfares? Do they have blinders on? As V. wrote, Portland is a city with an immaculate downtown. In the Bay Area we have Walnut Creek and other cities with very well kept downtowns. San Jose has a well kept downtown. Why do Oakland residents have to put up with this sh$t day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year? Mayor Ron Dellums needs to wake up and show some leadership on these issues. A feel good press release regarding “quality of life crimes” and then the same old thing doesn’t amount to leadership. Oakland residents are tired of this.

  34. Max Allstadt

    V –

    How does Portland do it? Portland is the same size as us, but it’s also a regional center. How does downtown Vancouver look?

  35. das88

    I agree downtown Portland is much cleaner than Oakland, but I do not think Oakland is similar in many other ways:

    1) Portland has about 25% more people
    2) It’s budget is about $2.4 billion over 2x of Oakland
    3) As Max points out, it is a regional center. People come from a wide catchment area for cultural events and shopping. Heck people travel from Idaho for weekend shopping trips.
    4) I don’t know the figures, but I am guessing Portland doesn’t have close to 10% of its population living in subsidized housing.

    Of course, Oakland has a lot of its own advantages — better weather, busier port, proximity to SF, more professional sports teams, etc.

  36. Patrick

    You’re comparing advertising to graffiti? I think the provision and maintenance of 256 bus shelters in return for advertising – which we are subjected to so frequently we have become inured – is a little different from the willful destruction of private and public property through graffiti. One is legal and one is not. And, one intends to provide benefit and one does not.

    Regarding Portland, the racial makeup is very different from Oakland. Therefore, I would imagine what is culturally acceptable is also different.

  37. Patrick

    Put another way – placing a glossy 4 x6 card touting a gallery event under someone’s windshield is a little different from spray painting the invite on the trunk.

  38. Patrick

    According to the latest information from CEDA, the racial makeup of Portland is very similar to that of Walnut Creek. That’s probably why I find both of those cities lackluster.

    77.91 White
    6.81 Hispanic/Latino
    6.64 Black or African/American
    1.06 Asian

    Walnut Creek
    83.89 White
    9.36 Asian
    5.99 Hispanic/Latino
    1.07 Black or African/American

    35.7 Black or African/American
    31.3 White
    21.9 Hispanic/Latino
    15.2 Asian

  39. Jennifer

    I used to live in Portland and I could joke that the frequent rain washes everything clean once a week . . . but that would only be partly true. Portland has a more active, engaged leadership in the City and among its elected officials; Portland is a shopping hub and business hub of the entire state, if not region. I think the main difference is that the leadership of Portland cares . . . as for Vancouver WA, the downtown has been developing in recent years, but it is still just a bedroom community of Portland (much as people there hate to hear that).

    To clean up downtown Oakland, the business community must demand it, and the city council member who represents the area must take the lead. I’ve never heard of an Oakland City Council member doing a merchant walk or really being out in the neighborhoods. It’s pathetic . . .

  40. Jennifer

    I should also add that Portland local government structure is very, very different than Oakland’s, and that plays a part in how engaged the city council members have to be.

  41. Robert

    Patrick, what are you saying? That blacks, hispanics and asians find it acceptable behavior to trash things that don’t belong to them? I don’t understand your point about cultural acceptability.

  42. Patrick

    Not at all, Robert. I’m suggesting that racially diverse cities have more points of view to consider. And, graffiti may not be high on that list. Max points out Newark and Brooklyn; large, other racially diverse areas that are in close proximity to a “major” city. They have similar issues, at least as far a graffiti goes. Until the reasons that graffiti proliferates are addressed, no amount of paint in the world can cover up people’s desire for expression, and the feeling of power that conveys.

  43. Max Allstadt

    There are only two ways to stop nuisance graffiti: one is totalitarianism. The other is to recognize a simple fact: the neighborhood, if it cares enough, can afford more paint than the taggers.

    For every downtown we’ve mentioned so far that has low amounts of tagging, I bet you’ll find a paint-over initiative of some sort. That’s the kind of thing you can afford when you have shitloads of retail and tourist money, and a population density that beefs up your tax base. In NYC they start by painting over everything regularly, and sometimes later put the burden on individual members of a BID or neighborhood association to take care of their own place. It works. Taggers shy away from being the first to hit an immaculate block ’cause they expect to get caught. Or they don’t bother to put up intricate tags because they know they won’t last.

    And yeah, I did compare graffiti, particularly large graffiti, to billboards. Large graffiti is often better looking and less socially irresponsible in what it promotes. It is the work of a mischievous subculture that has existed as long as there have been walls and paint. It’ll fade in and out, but it won’t leave. The best you can do is support your local arts programs so it’s at least decent quality work most of the time. Not only does NYC have less graffiti than Oakland, but what they do have is much better craftsmanship, and much more daring. Ever heard of the Freedom Tunnel? Anybody get a chance to get on the Highline before they started redoing it?

  44. Patrick

    So, supporting local arts programs will turn our local taggers into the next Michelangelos, Seurats and Mondrians?

  45. Patrick

    You can’t support “some” graffiti, due to its”much better craftsmanship”, and denigrate others. Who made you Graffiti King? Didn’t someone once say that art is in the eye of the beholder? Graffiti forces itself on the entire community, without paying for itself, unlike advertising. The point is, is there no better way for these people to express themselves? Does it have to involve destruction?

  46. Robert

    I am still not clear how racial diversity and different points of view translates into the acceptability of vandalism.

  47. Patrick

    Huh? Previous posts mentioned that Oakland had “lost” the retail game to Walnut Creek. Another poster mentioned that Portland had a similar retail profile. I simply posted demographic information about all three cities. How do you know that I did not mean to suggest that Whites, when in the minority, are more prone to vandalize via graffiti?
    The block on which I live is a wonderful microcosm of cultures. My Laotion neighbor has her front yard full of roses. My Jamaican neighbor has a swept yard. My Panamanian neighbor has a yard that makes most golf courses look shabby (and she waters it with greywater). My yard? The fava beans are shooting up and the chard is prolific, as always (in the front yard.) Yes, I have a vegetable garden in the *gasp* front yard.

    My neighborhood has no graffiti. But, I have no doubt that if it occured, we’d be sure to do something about it. But, that’s the mix of MY neighborhood. And it has nothing to do with race.

  48. Max Allstadt

    Patrick, I can support whatever I want.

    I support riding bikes on sidewalks as long as you yield to pedestrians,
    I support smoking marijuana in public as long as you remember to bathe daily.
    I support drinking whiskey in parks as long as you don’t act like an asshole,
    I support swimming in Lake Merritt as long as you wear a condom,

    and I certainly support well crafted graffiti on a blank wall more than I support those billboards for Cache Creek with the old couple at the slot machines who look like they just huffed a balloon full of nitrous oxide and crack smoke.

    (deep breath)

    Sometimes there is no better way for the little guy to express himself than to paint the big guy’s wall. Even better when they improve the big guy’s billboards. Again, it’s been going on for as long as walls and paint have existed. It won’t be eradicated. As a matter of fact, it’s even gone electric:


    Someday they’ll do it with lasers or paintballs. I’m not advocating malicious vandalism like messing up a storefront or a private home. Walls like
    will exist until we spray the entire goddamn nation with non-stick silicone coating, at which point, we’ll have better things to enjoy anyway…

  49. Max Allstadt

    And we are now on an EPIC tangent, by the way.

    Want to learn something? read JB’s posts. Wanna get back on topic? please, do so.

  50. Patrick

    Actually, the first post in this thread that completely went off topic and entirely dealt with graffiti was yours…if you feel that a civil discussion can not meander, I apologize for following your lead.

  51. Max Allstadt

    Nah. I just feel that Measure Y and policing are way way more important topics than graffiti. And I thought we went off topic with the post about how horrible our blight problem is downtown and how it’s the rank and file police’s fault for eating lunch at Le Cheval (which is modestly priced and within walking distance of the jail, courthouse and headquarters, by the way.)

  52. Navigator


    The picture of that wall which you posted says it all. It shows the utter contempt these graffiti hoodlums have for their community. There is even twelve foot high graffiti on that wall. This shows how embolden these criminals have become. The graffiti covering that wall says, “I don’t care about my community, my neighbors, my city, etc.” It says, I’m a self consumed A$$ hole who will trash everything in site to enhance my profile in a community of insecure, and vandalism addicted, criminals.

    Max, that wall is a crime. Do you see all the items dumped on the adjacent lot? That’s what graffiti brings. It comes with a “don’t care attitude” which then brings down the community. This is part of what the Police Department needs to address. Blight brings more crime. Let’s start addressing the smaller issues which may then help prevent larger issues in the future.

  53. We Fight Blight

    I agree with Navigator. Blight and crime are interrelated. If as a community we do not address blighted conditions, including graffiti, it sends a subtle and not so subtle message to criminals that no one is minding the store. If no one is minding the store, it emboldens criminals to engage in criminal behavior. Hey no one is watching, no one cares, so I can do whatever I want. This affects peoples willingness and desire to locate businesses in Oakland and to invest in residential properties.

    The problem as pointed out in previous posts is that blight is a complaint driven process. Our local government is waiting for citizens to report blight. No City staff person is going out, walking each and every neighborhood and identifying blighted conditions and requiring the property owners to remedy the problems. They go out only if there is a complaint.

    In North Oakland between the areas of Woolsey (Berkeley border), Shattuck Avenue, Market Street and 53rd Avenue (Temescal) we have reported and have removed with the assistance of the Oakland Police approximately 90 abandoned and inoperable vehicles. We have identified and reported approximately 81 properties for blight related issues. They are slowly being addressed. This is all based on neighborhood complaints and determined follow-up to make sure the issues are resolved and if they are not pushing it up the bureaucratic chain of command.

    If our City Council and Mayor were really interested in cleaning up the City and addressing the nexus between blight and crime, they would be staffing up those departments that deal with blight and they would be pro-actively identifying blighted properties in a systematic fashion rather than waiting for residents, most of whom do not have any idea that there is a blight ordinance and do not know who to call to get blight remedied, to make a complaint.

    Perhaps through Measure OO, we can create a jobs corp of students to walk the community and identify blighted properties. Unfortunately, in Oakland that might be too dangerous for the students.

  54. Max Allstadt


    They’re not particularly emboldened. That wall is in a fairly unpopulated industrial area.

    Max’s law of Graffiti Economics:

    If the free market doesn’t contain sufficient demand for the protection of a given wall, someone will eventually find that wall and freely mark it.

  55. Ken O

    Yes there’s spray paint and tagging going on.
    Solution: do what I did: grab some paint and cover it up yourself. I’ve done it recently on stop signs and poles on the intersection where i live. I also spraypainted in bright orange potholes on my street so me and other cyclists could avoid riding into them and vaulting over the handlebars onto the pavement. I notice cars now drive around them like some kind of labeled minefield, too. It’s funny.

    My hope is that the city will see the problem and fix it. (Good luck.)

    Waiting for the city to be constructive is like waiting for the Summer of Love to happen all over again. Hold your council reps’ feet to the fire! And DIY!

  56. Navigator

    Ken and WFB,

    I’m glad to hear that you guys are pro-active in making your community better. I wish Oakland had many more residents like you. Ken, when I lived in Laurel many years ago, I was part of the Macarthur Coalition which was a group of citizens who worked hard in making their community a better place. I painted over many tags on Macarthur between Hight Street and 35th Avenue. The Macarthur Coalition was responsible for making the Macarthur business corridor cleaner and more attractive to new businesses. The coalition was responsible for actualy recruiting a number of businesses to the area.

    Also, on Saturday morning I’d get up early and clean the entire medium of High St., from Carson, all the way down to Macarthur. It took me less than an hour. That’s such a pretty medium filled with tall pine trees that I couldn’t see it blighted with litter from irresponsible scofflaws.

    The point is, that it doesn’t take that long to get things done. The City of Oakland is worthless as far as providing its citizens with minimal services. If the neighbors don’t do it, it doesn’t seem to get done. I mean, they can’t even maintain Oakland’s premiere street, Broadway in a minimal level. It’s outrageous. If I were Mayor, I’d fire every department head and start from the beginning.

  57. ConcernedOakFF

    I think the the last recommendation is great. Oh yeah…that will never happen with our current mayor. Get rid of him too.

    We need new blood. If this city continues to have people civicly active, it will change. Just look at the different political climate in the last 5 years and how it has changed. My money is on bigger changes in the next 5. Too large of a Demographic shift for it not to.

    Or nothing will change. I hope it is the former option.