How much of our crime crisis has to do with ineffective leadership at OPD?

So in Citywise today, we learn that Robert Bobb announced at an event yesterday that the budget deficit is going to be between 40 and 60 million. Ouch. Bobb is right – it’s going to be an ugly September indeed.

But he said something else at the same event that I find even more upsetting. In response to a question about crime or the police department or something like that, Bobb reported that he had actually asked Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker recently what the department’s crime reduction goal for the year was. Tucker responded that they didn’t have one. Take a second to let that one sink in.

If I hadn’t been completely convinced already that Tucker just needs to go as soon as possible, hearing that certainly did it for me. If you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon yet, you may want to take a gander at some of Ron Oz’s essays. Oz has many interesting things to say about policing, although I recommend taking his demographic comparisons with a grain of salt, well, not even that – just ignore it. He has a habit of taking data from two different sources and draws sweeping conclusions from these apples to oranges numbers and makes assumptions based on them and in general, it’s kind of a bad scene. But the police stuff is solid.

39 thoughts on “How much of our crime crisis has to do with ineffective leadership at OPD?

  1. dto510

    As Ignacio’s been pointing out for a week or so, the number of police officers has increased substantially but arrests are down. If that’s not clear evidence of mismanagement, I don’t know what is.

  2. gfw

    V-, I’m in the process of writing an OpEd for the Trib that suggests a technological solution: high-resolution surveillance cameras on the most dangerous streets, and in other shopping areas. In the highest crime area, they would provide a reliable and incoercible witness to crime committed nearby, carves out a safe area for investment in amenities necessary for functioning communities (ie. groceries, cleaners).

    The two main objections are civil liberties, and efficacy.

    On efficacy, the academic and public policy literature is highly ambiguous. Unclear whether crime is affected at all, or pushed to a new block. On the other hand, other cities swear by them, like London, Chicago, and New York. There is a report coming out soon about a trial effort in SF. Preliminary reports indicate cameras move the most violent crime down the block– but that’s sort of what we want, no? Raise the costs of crime a bit, and create a safe public space for the community and business to gather/invest. In any event, Oakland needs ‘bold, persistent experimentation.’

    On civil liberties, I think it is morally appalling that we nonchalantly let businesses use cameras to protect their property, and law enforcement to use cameras to catch traffic violators, but not to respond to or deter violent crime. It seems like we have our priorities completely backwards. We can set the system up so that the cameras are only accessed after a murder has happened in the vicinity. The cameras can be maintained by a citizen panel, if that helps.

    As a big lefty, cameras are a sub-optimal solution, but I think, having done the review of the literature over the past several years for my own research, cameras can be one part of an integrated strategy aimed at retaking the central pedestrian shopping areas in our highest crime areas, and providing a safe space for the community to rebuild and resocialize.

    Any thoughts? It’s a work in progress. Actually, I’ll post this on my blog… got longer than I was planning. :)

  3. Colin

    As far as Ignacio’s stat, I think it’s a bit misleading. Today we do have more officers than we did a year ago – mostly because we just graduated a capacity academy. But none of those officers are on the streets yet. I would be willing to bet that in real numbers we have fewer officers out patrolling now than we did last year – which is always lower than the number that are supposed to be out on patrol, anyway.

    That’s something a lot of people don’t realize: on any given Wednesday night there are supposed to be 35 officers out on the streets of Oakland. The actual number averages around 18 last I heard. Now, that was a while ago that I saw that statistic, but I would be surprised if it’s changed substantially. To me that’s a more damning indictment than the stat that Ignacio’s been carrying on about. We can’t even maintain the already-too-low number of officers on the streets. And that’s an obvious catch 22: if you’re out in a patrol car (alone, for reasons that are beyond explanation), then you’re going to feel safer in doing your job if you know that backup is available. But if half of the people who should be there aren’t, your job just got substantially more dangerous, and you have less incentive to show up for work.

  4. Max Allstadt


    I’ve suggested solutions to the civil liberties issues around cameras in the past, here they are again:

    1. Temporary installation of cameras, not permanent. If reported crime or observed crime dips below a certain level, the cameras are retasked to another area.

    2. Privatization and Crowdsourcing. Instead of the goverment installing cameras, the government creates online infrastructure to coordinate streaming video from cameras voluntarily installed by civilians. Because it’s reasonable for a civilian to monitor public right of way adjacent to his own home, the legal issue becomes an easier obstacle to surmount. The challenge of this method is finding inexpensive hardware that provides good images. We may be a few years from this technology being affordable off the shelf.

    And you’re right. It’s obscene that businesses can monitor their property, and we can monitor traffic lights, but we can’t use cameras to get the license plate of a guy who’s picking up 14 year old hookers at bus stops.

    Legislation on cameras should also include mandatory prison terms for public employees who abuse the cameras in any way. What constitutes abuse needs to be well laid out, and training needs to be explicit about consequences.

    Cameras may well move crime rather than prevent it. But if they help the cops herd criminals into less impactful areas, that’s an improvement. If they can teach dealers to operate indoors and with more subtlety, that’s an improvement too.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Colin –

    The number of officers in the department has been growing steadily, from 693 last February to 778 currently. The 778 does include 30 officers who graduated the Academy at the end of July, but even if you don’t count those officers, we’re still talking about an 8% increase in the size of the police force since last year, coupled with rising crime and reduced arrests. I think Ignacio’s point has merit.

  6. 94610BizMan

    “Tucker just needs to go as soon as possible… If you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon yet…”

    OK V, please advise (seriously), I’m ready, how do we jump on?

  7. Born in Oakland

    Maybe Robert Bobb will become interested enough in our downward slide to reconsider moving back here. He was a positive force when he was here before. I bet there is a book just waiting to be written.

  8. Farrah

    I’m a believer that crime is not CAUSED by problems with law enforcement. Although I do believe that we need to have the best response to crime that we possibly can, I would look at Oakland’s schools and social services (and possibly the juvenile justice system for issues with recidivism) as areas that could be strengthened to address the CAUSES of crime.

    Any response has to be carefully crafted so that they don’t turn communities of color into police states. Criminalizing entire communities or sectors of the population often lead to further problems. We saw this with how calling for harsher sentencing for crack dealers devastated poor Black communities and families.

    I’m sorry about the departure from politics. I just think it’s tempting for people to pounce on these issues to point fingers at various politicians. Not that these politicians can’t do a better job, I just think the solution does not and should not lie solely with beefing up law enforcement.

  9. V Smoothe Post author

    I don’t think anyone would say that there aren’t other factors aside from policing that contribute to Oakland’s high crime rate, but right now, we’re looking at several years of steadily rising violent crime. I think it would be naive to say that decisions made within the police department have no impact on that.

  10. Colin

    V –

    Fair enough. I was under the impression that there hadn’t been gains due to attrition, but I trust you to have more accurate numbers than the ones coming out of my ass.

    The question remains: how do we get an effective police chief with a plan to deal with the problems Oakland has? How, in our city government, is a police chief selected? Who has hire/fire power? Is it a council vote or does Dellums get to do it?

  11. len raphael

    correct my impression that jerry brown stuck us w tucker for a political reason of his own campaign for attorney general plus the need to get a paper pusher who could feed the Rider’s Judge Henderson the cya window dressing oversight documentation required by the settlement. maybe he really did “clean up” lax supervision in the OPD but you wouldn’t know that by the lawsuits after Tucker came in.

    wasn’t there something out there tucker is well connected in the county and very close to qualifying to double dip both a county pension and an OPD pension also? any other possible explanations are there for the newly elected dellums to keep the old police chief? such “liked and respected by the rank and file” NOT.

  12. Charles Pine

    Not “turn communities of color into police states.” These neighborhoods are currently thug states, and increasing numbers of their residents want more police. Of course everyone insists on professional policing.

    The Congressional Black caucus demanded “harsher sentencing for crack dealers” (vs. powder cocaine dealers). It was necessary to help break the crack epidemic of the 80s and 90s.

    As for social causes, you need big economic changes in this country; band-aid programs in Oakland schools and social programs have not proved to have much effect at all.

    We don’t expect a crime-free city. We simply demand the relative safety of an average American city. Oakland is near the top of the list for violent crime, auto theft, etc. And Oakland has half a police department compared to most major cities.

  13. Max Allstadt

    That’s a pretty extreme reaction Charlie.

    The Black Caucus would likely tell you that they made a mistake. There is certainly a balanced route to peace in this town that doesn’t create a police state.

    Well regulated cameras.

    Extend the program where we put street prostitute patronizers on billboards. I say we do that more comprehensively. Inform their entire family and social circle by mail. Why not their employer too.

    More assistant DAs.

    A more effective campaign against “Stop Snitchin”. We need a climate where a brat in a Stop Snitchin t-shirt gets kicked out of any store, restaurant, theater, or whatever. We need a climate where a kid in a stop snitchin shirt who walks down the street gets’ slapped by little old ladies.

    Part of what we need to make this happen is to train cops to use the minimum effective verbal aggression at all times. They need to be held to it. As a young white male who knows how to talk to cops, I rarely get anything resembling a hassle. But I have been on the receiving end often enough, particularly when I was a bit younger and a bit weirder looking. There are definitely cops who are not judicious in the way they throw their weight around. Something as simple as curbing this issue could go a long long way.

  14. Peaches


    You are incorrect when you say that none of the recently graduated Oakland Police Officers are on the streets. Some of them were on the streets the day after the July 25th graduation ceremony, and most were on the streets within the next week.

    Oakland Police Department chose the best, approximately forty-seven (47), of the thousands of people who applied to become Oakland police officers, and of those thirty (30) graduated after successfully completing one of the most mentally and physically challenging and overall grueling police academies in the county. So, the Oakland Police Department has a very well trained force of police officers, and they are a balanced force, with young, older, and officers specially trained in particularly areas of law enforcement tactics. So, what is the problem?

    In my opinion, one of primary problems is lack of citizen support. Each time an officer shoots a criminal, you have a group of irresponsible citizens immediately taking to the streets and going to the media crying foul, instead of looking at the entire situation that led up to the shooting and the position in which the officer(s) found themselves. I am amazed at the ease in which family members of criminals can cash-in on the death or injury of the criminal after they (the criminals) have created a deadly confrontation with the police is the problem. The fact that these particular citizens are not concerned about illegal guns on the streets and refuse to hear that these guns in the homes and hands of criminals is a bigger problem than anything is the problem. These communities need to be forced to take personal responsibility. Also, the law-abiding Oakland citizens who support the Oakland police need to become more vocal about their frustration with their irresponsible citizenry and about their support of the Oakland police officers who risk their lives daily to protect the lives and property of the citizens of Oakland.

    I am a social worker of fifteen years, and I am also a person of color, and I am fed up with the excuses of the commuities that refuse to try.

  15. V Smoothe Post author

    Peaches –

    All new OPD officers undergo a several month field training program after their graduation from the Academy. Those who graduated on July 25th are currently in this training process.

  16. Surfways


    I dont see how cameras will help stop crime – their presence simply tell the criminals to take their business elsewhere. That John you recorded on your cell phone is probably still getting his wick dipped in wax, but at a different location.

    BUT I want cameras, they are useful for prosecuting people who have committed crimes.

    We definitely need an orchestrated front to battle crime, everyone must pitch in, from the policies of the police department, city council members, the DAs, and residents. This is not a police state, but a state where everyone is investing in Oakland (stakeholders).

    I cant help but wonder if there were more homeowners in Oakland, would it be different?

    Look at your most hated city, Piedmont. Do you have any idea of how involved the residents of Piedmont are in their city? When something is rippling their pond, they mobilize and deal with the problem. A lot of personnel get involved, not just the police.

  17. Peaches

    V Smoothe ,

    You are correct, the Oakland police officers that recently graduated this past July are in their first month of six month Field Training. However, they are still on the streets as law enforement officers, and they are protecting and serving and enforcing the laws in Oakland; and in doing so, these officers are facing danger and risking their lives just like those who have completed Field Training. These men and women deserve to be acknowledged as working law enforment officers, not rookies who are doing nothing.

    Being in Field Training does not mean you do not work.

  18. Colin

    Peaches -

    In the same sense that interns aren’t doctors, the new hires aren’t police. When they are in the field being trained, they require a trained officer to be spending time with them, showing them the ropes. It’s an important part of the process – I’m not diminishing it, but it’s not like someone can come out of the academy and get in a car the next day.

    And I have absolutely no problem what so ever with the OPD officers. We consistently have one of the top ranked academies west of the Mississippi. Part of why our police force is often poached.

  19. Frustrated

    The notion that Oakland will somehow become a police state by hiring more police is patently absurd. The people who proffer this idea, such as Mayor Dellums, really are apologists for crime. More police patrolling the streets will have a positive effect on deterrence and send the message that Oakland is serious about crime. The only people that will benefit from the shrill cry of “no more police we don’t want a police state” are the thugs and criminals who are strong arming residents, selling drugs, and killing young black men.

    During the election my North Oakland Councilwoman, Jane Brunner, made it a point to emphasize that the problems with the police performance rests with Chief Tucker, who at that time had no comprehensive crime strategy (apparently he still doesn’t). She was quick to point out, because she was getting a lot of heat from constituents, that City Council really has limited power over the Police except as it related to their budget and major policy directions. Since she placed the blame squarely on Chief Tucker, I asked her and her opponent, Patrick McCullough, during a debate whether they would be willing to support and recommend to Mayor Dellums, the removal and replacement of Chief Tucker. Interestingly, Councilwoman Brunner, in a classic political response, hemmed and hawed, and never answered the question. Except to say that the Mayor controls the hiring and firing of the Police Chief. Duh–didn’t you hear my question? Patrick McCullough emphatically said yes. Brunner of course won the election. Where is she on the crime issue and Chief Tucker? Oh yeah, I saw her mugging for the cameras when the NOMAD Cafe got robbed.

    If Chief Tucker is not doing his job and has no comprehensive crime reduction strategy and no crime reduction goals, then shouldn’t our City Council pressure Mayor Mcnothing to do something? Like fire the guy and replace him with someone just a bit more competent? Do we really need a major scandal like that which surrounded Deborah Edgerly to force poor administrators out of City jobs?

  20. Max Allstadt

    The police state I fear is more of the Giuliani anti-fun police state. Where dancing in bars becomes outlawed, and people who pee in an alley get locked up overnight even if there were no public bathrooms they could have used.

    We’re not really at risk of that. My statements about training cops to escalate only to minimum necessary verbal or physical hostility… that’s more about the cops doing their part to build trust in communities that currently don’t trust them. I also know very little about whistleblower protection on the force, but perhaps that’s something else to look into.

    By and large, I’m sure the OPD are decent and well meaning. Unfortunately the instant one mean cop does something abusive in West Oakland or East Oakland, the entire department loses huge amounts of face in the eyes of the community.

    I actually think having more cops would make the ones we have less likely to play hardball to early in a confrontation. One would think knowing that somebody has your back would mellow you out a bit.

  21. Frank C.

    I’m from NYC. I live in SF now, and have worked in Oakland. People, don’t become too pessimistic. They said crime in NYC was intractable. Bratton, sound management, and technology helped prove otherwise.

    With the right leadership, Oakland will see progress, I’m sure of it. When does Dellums term end?

  22. Max Allstadt

    Frank -

    I’m from NYC too. Thanks for bringing up Bratton. It’s super important that people understand that he was the one who made it happen and not Rudy.

  23. danny

    the more I read about the compstat stuff the more I wonder why we haven’t done it. then I remember our mayor and police chief.

  24. Max Allstadt


    I’ve had it! I am hereby on a mission to break every single no-fun law in this town! Maybe I’ll even do it on tape. I wonder how many I can break simultaneously…

    I would like to solicit donations right here and now! I need a dog on a long leash, a bottle of scotch, a dress and an inner tube.

    If you guys can get me these things and are willing to help me video it, I will walk a dog on the side of lake merit (illegal) while floating in an innertube in the lake (illegal), wearing a dress (illegal) and drinking a cool iced glass of Glenlivet (illegal). Oh, I should also bring some pornography, which, even though I plan to keep it in a backpack out of view, is also, you guessed it… illegal.

    5 crimes that shouldn’t be crimes… in a single photograph. Maybe we can do even better. Are there any other completely harmless illegal acts I could add to this cocktail of crime? Let me know…

  25. Chris Kidd


    Sign me up. Let’s make sure you’re playing pinball while in the innertube. I think there’s also laws against raising fowl (ducks/chickens) in your house. So…. rubber chicken bath toy in the frame as well?

  26. len raphael

    only william bratton and our jane brunner will claim that compstat accounted for most of the huge decline in nyc crime.

    my understanding from following the nyc crime 1990 to present crime declines was that it was a combo of a broad international urban crime decline, plus compstat, plus agressive policing, plus a huge increase in the size of the nypd, plusa strong dose of who the heck knows.

    on the increase in the staffing, Zimring (our local Bolt prof in The Great Crime Decline) ” beginning during the term of Mayor Dinkins… the number of full time police employees greew from 39,400 to 53,000 in the 1990′s , or 35%. … which increased the rate of employees per 100k by 23%” “the 13,631 employees added … was almost equal to Chicago’s total of 14,909″

    “A second major change took place in the tactical emphasis of street policing. ….the major strategic weapons employed at street level were agressive stops that were independent of arrests for offenses and a program of misdeemaeanor arresnts for drug offenses, as awel as a variety of public-order offenses. … both tactics have a a longer history than what has now been renamed quality of life policing and a variety of different labels including stop and frisk and field interrogation. ….proactive policing across a wide spectrum of target behaviors.”

    ” a third major change came in the management of police activity and the flow of information to police management” compstat

    “the three major changes in NYC policing were interdependent and interrelated”

    There are serious questions whether NYC’s results can even be duplicated in more spread out cities (how’s Bratton doing in LA?) or where cities where cities where gun ownership makes it easier for criminals to steal or buy guns.

    Sure, buy those gps units and send all the commanders to compstat school. Sit back and just wait a year or two for the big declines.

    Forget about increasing staffing, can you picture more aggressive policing by the OPD? Since the Riders settlement we’ve been going as fast as we can in the opposite direction, but still can’t avoid massive lawsuit losses. NYC PD had some real bad cop abuse cases in that decade, that probably would have bankrupted Oakland. eg. the broomstick

    Compstat. The best info system in the world ain’t gonna help when you have mediocre management.

    -len raphael

  27. len raphael

    how long has bratton been in LA now? two years?

    what policing changes have been made there other than implementing compstat. and what changes were started say a year before bratton came.

    and what demographic, economic major changes?

    i have no doubt that good info system is necessary for effective policing, but sufficent?

  28. VivekB

    I just refreshed the crime stats, this time I did both a median per month comparison, as well as year-to-date comparisons. I did 3 buckets: Violent+Property+Drug, Violent-only, and Property only. I did this for the following geographies:

    - Oakland-wide
    - Area 1, 2, 3
    - Beats 4X, 7X, 9X, 10X, 11X, 12X, 12Y/13X, 13Y

    As always, registered users only, here’s the link to the article: . You don’t have to live in Rockridge to join the site.

    I’ll send VS the excel file with the actual tables if she wants to repost some of it here. There’s 6 tables (for each crime categoy above, there’s one for median, one for YTD), so it’s petty dense. Tomorrow though, it’s 2:15am and i’m about ready to pass out. Thank god i’m taking all week of work…

  29. Max Allstadt

    Is the reason the city capitulates to lawsuits related to California law? Or are we just wussies?

    Don’t get me wrong, Amadou Dialo and Abner Louima were both horrendously wronged. But aside from the riders, has OPD been sued for any real travesties recently? Accidentally hitting bystanders in a shootout with armed thugs isn’t quite the same thing as wanton abuse. There was that kid who got shot in the back a few weeks ago.

    Then again, sometimes kids who get shot in the front like to say they got shot in the back.

  30. len raphael

    asked a lawyer in the criminal biz, an ex big city da type, and he told me about a year ago that that oakland cops have a particularly bad reputation with juries, such that if you have to put an oakland cop on the stand, you’ve lost the case.

    if you talk to cops, they’ll say that even if the above is true, russo’s office should fight instead of settling more cases because of the demoralizing effect on appropriate aggressive policing, when opd cops know that russo’s office won’t back them up because that office makes decisions based strictly on immediate out of pocket costs of settling vs fighting.

    even on the Riders case, the line is that oakland would not have capitulated if one of the defendents hadn’t fled the country. but Dellums should still go back to the fed judge and “implore” him to lighten up on the monitoring burden so opd can take investigators out of IA and put them on the streets. But more importantly to work out appropriate aggressive policing policies with the judge. (how many hundreds of thou’s does OPD also pay outside monitors?)

    -len raphael

  31. Robert

    Are these juries of Oakland residents? If so, then half of them or more start out with the belief that ‘cops always lie!’