So, if you read the newspaper, it probably did not escape your notice that the Oakland Police Department has now exceeded its staffing requirement of 803 officers, and is, in fact, now at its highest level of staffing in history, with a total of 837 officers.
When you read these stories, you may have noticed two claims from Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums that probably made you feel a little better about the direction Oakland’s been heading. First, this one:
“We have now met the test and responsibility of Measure Y,” said Mayor Ron Dellums. “That’s an extraordinary thing.”
As a matter of fact, we haven’t. Measure Y does not simply mandate a total staffing level of 803 officers. Measure Y funds an additional 63 positions above the previously authorized 739, and gives very specific instructions about what those officers will do. It’s supposed to guarantee a Problem Solving Officer (PSO) in every beat. We now have PSOs assigned to every beat, but due to equipment shortages, many of them split their time between the beat they’re assigned to and another. It’s also supposed to add six officers to Oakland’s crime reduction teams. Not only have we not done that, but we’ve actually disbanded the existing crime reduction teams to serve as field training officers for the new recruits. Measure Y was also supposed to supply school resource officers and domestic violence officers, which, of course, hasn’t been done.
In the meantime, Measure Y funds, instead of paying for the positions explicitly delineated in the measure, have been funding the 6 Sergeants who supervise the 57 PSOs. I am not pointing this out to minimize the achievement of reaching full staffing, and I know that to some people, it probably seems like nitpicking or gratuitously raining on the Department’s parade or something. That’s not my intention.
I understand that these issues of what was promised and what was mandated versus what was delivered are probably migraine-inducing to people who just want enough police on the street. But I wouldn’t keep harping on them if I didn’t honestly believe they’re important. For me, this is an issue of the public trust, and the betrayal of that trust by the City. When you take someone’s money, you have to give them what you promised them. When City Councilmembers sign a ballot argument asking people to vote to tax themselves that says:
Measure Y will decrease violent crime by adding at least one community policing officer in each neighborhood beat, and expand specialized teams focused on violent crime, drug dealing, and gang activities.
the City needs to then deliver those specialized teams. It isn’t okay to lower our expectations just because they say it’s too hard to meet them. It’s like dealing with a self-involved boyfriend. You might get all upset when he flakes on something important to you or says he’ll bring you hot and sour soup when you’re sick, but instead shows up with wonton soup, because he likes wonton soup better even though he should know by now that you hate it. It’s totally tempting to just not say anything because you don’t want to seem petty or whiny or too demanding or whatever. But when you let it slide, all you’re doing is telling him that’s it’s okay to treat you that way. Why would you then expect him to ever behave any differently in the future? Same exact thing with the City. When we give the City a pass on abandoning their promises on one issue, we’re letting them know that the practice is okay. Why should they then feel obligated to do anything else they say they will?
The other thing you may have found heartening from all the news accounts is this:
Tucker and Dellums said violent crime is down from last year, which they cautiously attributed to more officers being on the force and problem-solving officers being assigned to each of the city’s 63 police beats.
Unfortunately, this is also not true. Violent crime is, in fact, up from last year. As of November 13th (xls), we were at 7,054 violent crimes for the year. Last year at that date, we were at 6,799. That’s a 3.8% increase. That’s right, violent crime is up from last year, when we had a total of 7,900 violent crimes reported for the year, representing an increase of 4% over 2006, when there were 7,599 violent crimes reported. That figure, of course, was 38% higher than it had been in 2006, when we recorded 5,519 violent crimes, which was 7% higher than the 5,150 we had in 2004. So, to sum up. Violent crime is not down from last year, it’s up. And last year’s violent crime total is 53% higher than it was in 2004, the year Oakland voters passed Measure Y.
Another sad bit of news in all this is that in order to pay for all these new officers, we had to cancel our next scheduled academy. This means the achievement, such that it is, may be short-lived. At the October 14, 2008 Public Safety Committee meeting, Assistant Chief Howard Jordan told the Councilmembers present “If we don’t fund the December academy, we will be below 803 by April.”
The coverage of the graduation of the 165th Academy also highlighted another long-standing problem I have with our local traditional media – they don’t seem to know how to have any fun with the news. How else to explain that while every report I saw featured a quote from at least one of the graduates, not a single one of them used new officer Jesse Lawless for that part of the story? Talk about missed opportunities.